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What I Did When an Employee Tested Positive for COVID-19

It’s the call from an employee every business owner dreads.

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I THINK MANY PEOPLE will agree when I say the last six months have been the hardest six months any business owner will ever experience. I remember waking up back in March and within minutes of opening my eyes feeling that tightness in my chest, the tears welling in my eyes, and panic setting in. What new challenge would the day bring? Were we going to have to close one of our stores? Were we going to be told to close? Would there be a message from one of our employees that they felt sick, and what would we do if they had COVID-19?

Since the pandemic began, many facets of our business model have changed. We have stricter protocols for calling out sick, our stores have never been cleaner, and we no waste worry on the owner with an unlocked retractable leash. Instead, we worry if they are wearing a mask that covers their nose and mouth. Protecting our employees and our customers is our top priority.

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In the past, if an employee called out sick, we would ask them, “Are you truly sick or can you work your shift?” We required our employees to find coverage for their scheduled shift if they could not come in, and if they were out for more than two days, a doctor’s note was needed to excuse the absence.

Fast forward to today. Now when an employee calls out sick, they can’t come back to work without a doctor’s note stating they are able to return and have no signs of COVID-19. The simple fact is that if an employee has symptoms of COVID-19 and we allow them to come in, we are possibly spreading it to all of our employees and to our customers.

We have more than 60 people employed in our company. Since the pandemic started, we’ve had more than a dozen employees tested and just recently our first positive case of COVID-19. I had rehearsed what would happen if we had an employee test positive. When it finally happened, it was nowhere near as eventful as what I planned.

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Earlier this week, one of our employees let me know that their partner was being tested for COVID-19 because they were exposed to someone who tested positive at their place of employment. I did what my gut told me to do: I sent her home and told her to let me know her partner’s results. When she called me to tell me her partner was positive, I advised her to quarantine for two weeks and recommended she get tested. She did the following day, and she tested positive.

What to do when you get that call.

First and foremost, do not panic. Like most, I thought I would have to close my business and have all of my employees tested. This is not the case. The guidelines are different from state to state, so call your local department of health if you have an employee who tests positive for COVID-19.

When you do, be sure to have all of your facts ready. In our case, we needed to provide the employee’s name, address, phone number, date of birth, when they were tested and how many of our employees they had been in contact with. We were also asked if our employees wear masks, practice social distancing, and if we sanitize our highly trafficked areas frequently.

Answering those questions made me extremely thankful that I had added so many strict policies in our stores. We require masks. We ask anyone who comes into our stores to wear a mask. If an employee has any symptoms of a cold or flu, they will be wearing a mask while at work even after masks are no longer mandatory in our state.

We have always been proactive about cleaning. We offer grooming in addition to retail, so we have always used a powerful disinfectant in our grooming salons. It was a simple decision to buy the disinfectant in bulk, and it is now used on every surface in our stores. We wipe down highly trafficked areas hourly, and pin pads and door handles in between every customer. We also use a germ buster to sanitize our stores every week. I am so thankful we added extra precautions. Because we did, we did not have to close any of our stores.

Next, I informed all my employees that she had been in close proximity to that they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and let them know that they had the option of being tested. We would only have required testing and quarantine if the employees were symptomatic. In our case, she had only worked with three people for a short amount of time, they were more than 6 feet apart and everyone was wearing a mask. Those extra precautions worked in our favor. I was one of the people she worked with, and I tested negative. The two others also tested negative.

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We have tried to keep our sense of humor through all this. We had custom masks made with our Bulldog’s face and made it a part of our dress code. How can you not smile when looking at your co-worker with a Bulldog underbite? I also just had shirts made that say “Caution, 6 feet, may bite” for all our employees to remind them and our customers to practice social distancing.

For our customers, we put up plexiglass barriers with signs that read, “You are witnessing DK employees in their natural habitat. Please don’t tap on the barrier. It agitates the employees. Also, don’t feed the employees. They may follow you home.”

If we’ve learned anything in the last six months, it’s to never get too comfortable. As much grief as 2020 has given us, I am thankful for it. It’s shown us that we can change our business model and still be successful, and it’s made me incredibly thankful for everything we have. From our employees to our customers, we have seen so much love and support. 2020 will always be known as a (Ross) Geller year for us. It taught us to PIVOT!

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