The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading so rapidly that hospital beds are filling quickly. But the repercussions go beyond overtaxing the medical facilities.
Small businesses are facing staffing shortages, and many are having to reduce hours and services or shuttering altogether.
Loren Speziale, deputy managing partner with Gross McGinley, has per thumb on the pulse of the issues facing small businesses in her role in the business services group of the Allentown, Pennsylvania law firm.
“The resurgence is causing an increase in the number of people exposed or who are testing positive and have to quarantine,” she said. “That is creating a lot of absenteeism which is putting pressure on businesses to stay open.”
From what clients are telling her, Speziale said there is no outlet for filling positions temporarily, causing many companies to reduce their hours of operation. “I’m not hearing from anyone that temporary workers are an option.”
Company owners, she said, are trying to be transparent to their customers and are working with employees to provide an environment where everyone can stay healthy. However, with the holiday season just ending, the number of cases has surged. “I think everyone is waiting to see if this will be short-lived. They are trying to get through the next several weeks and hope to get back to regular staffing.”
Most employers are following Center for Disease Control guidelines which means employees who have been exposed should quarantine for at least five days and those that test positive should for a week or longer. The problem is, employees are using their paid leave to quarantine, leaving them nothing for the rest of the year.
Speziale said she’s hearing from employers that they are worried employees may not be forthright about their symptoms or exposure. “Employers send people home if they are sick,” she said. “But people with minimal symptoms or those who are exposed to someone with COVID may not be willing to make it known. This puts both employers and employees in a bad position,” she said.
Companies with human resource departments have those people monitoring the health and wellness of the facilities. Those that don’t, she said, may ask managers to do this. “It all depends on how the business is structured.”
The good news, if there is any, she said, is that there is more information now than when the pandemic started. “Some employers are offering vaccine incentives so that if employees get sick, they don’t get as sick.”
Wellness programs can minimize shutdowns, so it is not as bad as when this first began, she said. “I don’t anticipate another forced shutdown like we saw the first time. We may see it on a business-to-business basis, but not a blanket shutdown.”
Speziale said most of the relief money from the federal programs is no longer available. Northampton County recently opened the application process for grants that may be used to cover paid sick leave, but the federal money has gone away or transitioned to tax credits.
Employers are going to have to look to local, county and state funding, if there is any.
In the meantime, small businesses are having to make do with what they have. When staffing is short, they may have to shut down or reduce hours and hope customers will understand, she said.