Best Practices for Office Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Tax preparation services have been interpreted to be an essential service, and we recognize that many of your offices will remain open during this time. However, in light of the orders put in place by the state of California, we believe it is important for employers to take health and safety measures in the office very seriously.
Ways to Make Your Office Safer
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following (and then some):
Prevent, prevent, prevent – Wash your hands frequently and encourage your employees to do the same. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow. Don’t share office supplies. This includes computers, keyboards, phones, etc. Go into extreme-cleaning mode at the office. Wipe down surfaces that clients touch after they leave, and consider purchasing a bulk supply of cheap pens (ten cents each on Amazon) so that each client can sign with a fresh pen and then take it home when they leave.
Encourage sick employees to stay home – This goes for you too.Over the years you have probably kept working during tax season despite having a cold, the flu, you name it…but this is different.If you are sick, stay home and take care of yourself. Encourage your employees to do the same. Also, note that the CDC says not to require sick employees to present you with a doctor’s note. They are saying our healthcare providers are extremely busy and may not be able to provide documentation in a timely way.
Establish New Protocols – Discourage clients from coming to the office. Instead, help them provide their tax information through secure portals. For those who just cannot provide information electronically, encourage them to bring their documents to the office and drop them off in either a secure lock box or a box inside your lobby.
Eliminate in-person meetings with clients – Now is the time to have more phone meetings or, for those clients who will go for it, try video conferencing. If you must meet in-person, make sure appointments are scheduled so that you only have one visitor at a time in your waiting area.
Is It Safe to Handle Tax Papers from Clients?
New research from the National Institute for Health found that coronavirus can remain active on cardboard for 24 hours, so it is reasonable to be cautious when it comes to handling papers brought to you from outside your office. Regardless of when you choose to handle your client’s tax papers, there are two steps that should be part of your workflow:
Don’t touch your face when you’re handling the papers.
Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds when you’re done with the papers.
OSHA has a nice 35-page document with everything you need to know about COVID-19 in your workplace. The first thing they note (besides describing what COVID-19 is and how it spreads) is that you need to make a plan. Hopefully, this guide can help you with that.
The CDC also offers guidance here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html