Tips for Re-Opening Your Business When Physical Distancing is a Challenge

By Alessandro Perri

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As many businesses in Ontario begin to re-open, certain businesses, like health clinics and spas, have unique concerns about how to keep their staff and clients safe when physical distancing is a challenge.

Here are some suggestions to help.

  1. Revise Your Client Intake Policy.

Based on current medical information, transmission of COVID-19 is prevented by ensuring those who are or who may be sick do not visit the location of your business.

Businesses can reduce the risk of their staff or clients coming into contact with such individuals by developing a robust client intake policy.

For your intake policy, consider including these processes:

  • All clients or customers should be scheduled in advance, preferably over the telephone. No walk-ins should be permitted.
  • When scheduling the appointment and again when the client visits your business, the client should answer an intake questionnaire to identify those who have COVID-19 symptoms or who may be at-risk of having COVID-19 symptoms. For example, some questions that should be asked include: (i) have you travelled outside of Canada within the last 14 days; and (ii) are you experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, like fever, cough, etc.?
  • If the client has any COVID-19 symptoms, he or she should not be scheduled for an appointment and should be asked to reschedule the appointment.

2. Health and Safety Measures in Your Business

In addition to the client intake policy, businesses should implement protective measures directly in their workplaces. These measures need to be tailored to the nature of the services provided.

a. Mandatory Temperature Checks

One of the primary symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever. Businesses can use non-invasive ways to check quickly whether a client has a fever and reschedule visits of those who do. However, the World Health Organization has warned that temperature checks should be used with other controls, like intake questionnaires, as some individuals with COVID-19 may not show signs of a fever.

b. Scattered Scheduling

To ensure clients and staff can socially distance while in a business, client appointments should be appropriately spaced throughout the day, with breaks in between appointments for proper cleaning of the high-touchpoint areas.

Also, some businesses are scheduling appointments with high-risk clients, like seniors and those with other health-related issues, before or after business hours, to limit the amount of people with whom these clients interact.

c. Protective Shields

Although difficult for more intimate services, like massages, large protective shields between staff and clients are being installed successfully in many businesses, including salons and other esthetician-related businesses. The shields allow staff and clients to interact safely at close distances, while mitigating the risk of contact with respiratory droplets.

d. Mask Policies

Municipal governments are implementing by-laws that require individuals to wear masks in public indoor spaces, with some exceptions.

For some businesses, the use of masks is also made mandatory by the guidelines of various professional colleges and associations. For example, the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario requires therapists and their clients to wear masks while giving/receiving massage therapy. For clients who choose to not wear a mask, the therapist can determine whether it is safe to provide services to them.

But, to protect the health and safety of staff and clients, businesses should consider implementing mandatory mask policies for all clients, including those who are exempt under municipal by-laws or who choose to not wear one.

Generally, businesses are free to choose whether or not to provide services to a client. But to ensure that a client is not denied service based on a protected human rights ground, businesses can follow these practical guidelines:

  • Before scheduling an appointment with a client, explain your company’s mask policy, and ask the client to confirm that he or she will be wearing a mask to their appointment.
  • Only schedule an appointment for clients who agree to wear a mask.
  • If a client refuses to or cannot wear a mask, do not schedule an appointment. If services can be provided to the client in an alternative and safe way, like with a protective shield or during an after-business-hour appointment, do so.
  • Do not ask clients to provide medical evidence for why they are unable to wear a mask.
  • Offer to reschedule the client’s appointment after the restrictions due to COVID-19 are eased.
  • If a client attends an appointment without a mask, provide a mask for the client. Some businesses are charging a nominal fee to all guests as a “COVID-19 tax” to cover additional expenses, such as providing clients with masks.
  • In difficult or hostile situations, you can direct a person to leave under Ontario’s trespassing laws or call the police.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are forced to balance many competing interests. But, to ensure the safety of employees and clients, implementing strict and robust policies is the most prudent option.

If you have any questions or concerns about re-opening your business or developing and implementing COVID-19-related policies in your business, please contact Michael Henry at 416-860-8021 or henry@houserhenry.com or Alessandro Perri at 416-860-8069 or aperri@houserhenry.com.

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About HHS

Since 1934, Houser Henry & Syron LLP has provided legal services to Canadian and foreign private businesses, helping them deal with complex legal challenges to grow and to manage risk successfully. We help our clients with mergers and acquisitions, commercial real estate, reorganizations, shareholders disputes and agreements, commercial agreements, employment issues and financing. We also pride ourselves in practising in Plain English.