As COVID-19 infections decline across Canada and vaccinations ramp-up, provinces are gradually entering the first phases of their most recent reopening plans. Bricks-and-mortar retailers have reason to be optimistic, with the opportunity to boost operations and soon welcome customers in greater numbers.
Adhering to government guidance and planning for each phase of reopening is essential for retailers to maximize recovery. Below is a checklist of best practices for retailers to follow as we increasingly open for business.
- Ensure that your business meets government criteria to reopen
An important first step is to determine if current provincial and municipal COVID-19 measures allow your retail business to open its doors. Depending on the province and the phase of reopening, determining factors include whether the business is an essential or nonessential retailer and the availability of an external-facing entrance.
- Determine the extent to which your business can reopen
After confirming that your establishment is permitted to reopen, it’s important to note that early phases of reopening may limit the extent to which that is possible. For example, certain provinces have limits on in-store capacity, require shopping by appointment only, have physical distancing requirements, or have banned the sale of non-essential items, and placed limits on hours of operation. Managing line-ups and modifying store layout will be important to ensure that government guidance is followed.
- Consider your employees
Employers have a legal duty to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers. Creating a safety plan that minimizes the risk of transmission in the workplace can facilitate meeting that duty. Training and regular, open communication with workers are key to mobilizing staff towards the successful implementation of your safety plans. In addition, consider a flexible sick leave policy that aligns with statutory requirements to permit time-off in relation to post-vaccination side effects and to encourage workers who are ill to stay at home. For more information, see our guide on best practices for employers to prepare for your employees’ return to work during COVID-19.
- The vaccine question: can entry to your store depend on vaccination, both for customers and employees?
Retail businesses can deny entry to protect health and safety within the establishment; however, neither governments nor public health officials have directly addressed the enforcement of employee or patron vaccination. Such a policy can raise both human rights and reputational implications. For more guidance on vaccinations and workers, see our article on Vaccines in the Workplace.
- PPE and keeping it clean
Businesses will likely be required to continue enforcing provincial mask rules within retail establishments until the late stages of government reopening plans. While private businesses have a right to refuse entry to customers who refuse to wear a mask, accommodating customers and workers who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons is essential. Having disposable masks ready for customers who may have forgotten their own demonstrates that your business takes health and safety seriously.
Proper hygiene, sanitization and cleaning includes having hand sanitation options readily and widely available, particularly near entrances and high-touch surfaces and increasing the frequency of scheduled cleanings, with special consideration for returned items and fitting rooms, and properly maintain HVAC systems with settings that maximize the outdoor air ratio.
Depending on the province or provinces in which your business is located, government guidance on employee screening for COVID-19 symptoms varies from daily, active monitoring by employers to individual, employee self-monitoring. Implement a means of checking for employees’ symptoms that is in accordance with local government guidance.
Note that certain provinces may also ask retailers to screen customers and other visitors for symptoms. Depending on local government guidance, consider using signage that refuses entry for those who are ill with COVID-19 symptoms or having a procedure to ask customers and visitors if they are experiencing symptoms. If you are a retailer with restaurant seating and are located in a region with requirements to collect patron contact information, do not go beyond government orders on the amount of information collected and the duration of retention to avoid over-collecting information and to stay onside with privacy requirements. The contact information should be stored in a secure location and deleted or securely disposed of at the end of the required time period.
- Be prepared for the next phases of reopening
As you implement these measures for the current phase of reopening, consider whether the policies and procedures being put in place will still be appropriate at increased levels of capacity. If the measures work today with 25% in-store capacity, how effective will they be once in-store capacity is increased to 50% or 100%? How quickly can workers be mobilized to adopt new procedures and redesign or modify spaces as each province enters the next phases of reopening? You can stay ahead of the curve by preemptively planning for each step of the relevant provincial governments’ reopening plan and ensuring that your workforce remains adaptable to expand operations when the time comes.