By Tina Alberino
It happened in Missouri. (Twice.) It happened in New York, and then again in Oklahoma. Salon professionals are testing positive for COVID-19 and they will continue to for as long as COVID-19 exists.
No matter what precautions you take in your salon, one of your employees will likely have a positive test at some point in the future. Consider it an inevitability and plan for it today.
Regardless of the precautions you’ve taken, you will be in for an intensely stressful time. Even if the employee was unlikely to expose anyone else, you’re going to be in charge of damage control moving forward. Here are my recommendations for what to do after you’ve notified all of your employees, even if your local laws do not require business owners to alert customers.
Contact the health department and/or OSHA (if they didn’t contact you first).
OSHA recently issued guidance on employers’ obligation to record COVID-19 cases in the workplace. (Read that article ASAP.)
Once you have notified the local health department, follow their guidelines and recommendations moving forward in addition to those recommended here. Cooperate with any contact tracing efforts they may require you to participate in.
If your team has not been wearing masks or face coverings 100% of the time, send them all home immediately.
I’m not going to ask why you chose not to wear masks or face coverings. I’m not going to let you see the fatal levels of side-eye I’m shooting your way. All I’m going to say is this: we don’t have the luxury of isolation from the general public during our routine work day the way most office workers do.
Masks are non-negotiable for us.
Masks should always have been non-negotiable for us. Every working professional should have been taking every effort possible to protect their lungs—not just from the virus, but from all of the other contagions, airborne debris, and chemical fumes we’re routinely exposed to.
If—for whatever reason—you made the choice not to enforce rules requiring face coverings in your salon, you have made your situation far more complicated and prolonged than it would have otherwise been. I’m not just talking about how your cute little act of defiance or complacency potentially impacted your community (and most certainly impacted the public’s opinion of our industry), I’m talking about the immense damage you’ll have done to your personal brand and the revenue losses you’re likely to endure as a result.
If you have suddenly made the choice to start behaving more responsibly moving forward, those losses start now. Cancel the rest of the salon’s appointments. Everyone in the building should immediately be sent home until they meet the standards for returning to work. You’re effectively closed for business until the salon has been fully disinfected and you have enough confirmed negative employees to reopen.
Because everyone in your salon has been in close-contact and breathing all over each other for at least ten or more minutes each service, it’s pretty likely that your first positive employee won’t be the only one…and that you will have a number of clients who test positive also. Pray they (and the public at large) don’t decimate your salon’s online reputation.
But what if we have been complying with employee and customer mask requirements?
Keep on keeping on. Your lone infected employee could have gotten COVID-19 anywhere, but since they’ve been wearing a mask in your facility, it’s unlikely they infected anyone while under your roof. Unless your health department (or other local authority) requires you to close, stay open and proceed with the rest of the steps.
Also, take a few minutes of your day to read the overwhelming positive support for The Clip Joint, a Missouri salon where an employee recently tested positive. They took every possible precaution to protect their customers and their appreciation shows.
We should also be rejoicing that the first 40+ clients exposed by the Great Clips employees in Missouri have all tested negative—so far—likely thanks to their adherence to social distancing protocols, including mask requirements. These early results are extremely promising for those in our industry who are enforcing mask requirements.
Get your team to make the client notification calls immediately while you prepare text and email notifications.
If you have more numbers to call than one person can handle, every employee with a phone should be using it to call each client that visited the facility over the last two weeks. Have them read the script and instruct the clients to direct any questions they have to you.
If you have the software infrastructure to support sending electronic notifications to every client the salon serviced in the last two weeks, get those messages configured and sent out now. This shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes, since you wrote your notice in advance.
Publish your statement to your socials and refer all media requests to that statement.
It can be easy to unintentionally say something damaging when confronted by the media. Throughout the years, I’ve seen salon owners admit to misclassification and wage theft on national television and in trade magazines. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen salon owners and professionals alike show how painfully ignorant they are about sanitation, disinfection, and sterilization—even while using our “superior knowledge of bacteriology” to make a case for a swift reopening.
Don’t risk a misstep. Instead, refer any press to your official statement.
Disinfect the facility.
Follow the CDC’s Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities with Suspected/Confirmed COVID-19. (Essentially, it boils down to “SCRUB ALL OF THE THINGS.”)
Here is where we have to make a distinction between what you’re required to do and what you’d be wise to do despite not being required to do it.
Whether or not the following are required by your local authorities, they are objectively responsible things to do. Therefore, I personally feel they should be done and have made these steps part of my own plan.
Notify all vendors and delivery companies whose employees may have had contact with the employee.
If there is a possibility that the employee had close contact with a non-client while working in the salon, call those companies and inform them. (“Close contact” means being within six feet of the sick employee for a prolonged period, 10-30 minutes.)
When can my employees come back to work?
Your local authorities will likely provide further guidance, but my recommendation is to listen to the lawyers and exercise the utmost caution.
Legal experts and human resource blogs are recommending a combined approach, advising that employers instruct infected employees to remain home for the longer of the period of time recommended by their health care provider or the applicable health department, or until:
at least 72 hours have passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications AND improvement of respiratory symptoms, AND
at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, AND
two consecutive negative tests collected ≥24 hours apart. (Assuming you have access to testing.)
Listen to your gut here. If it’s telling you not to allow employees back into the salon until they have two consecutive negative tests, you’d be wise to follow that instinct.
If you want to stay open, stay cautious.
Here are the CDC’s Discontinuation of Isolations for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings. Read them.
At a bare minimum, I would recommend requiring medical clearance confirmation directly from a physician or health clinic. This may come in the form of an official email or document—not merely an employee’s insistence that they’ve been cleared to return to work. For as long as people are capable of masking their symptoms, it falls to employers to conduct due diligence.
I recognize what an incredibly stressful time this is for all of us who interact closely with the public and am grateful for all of the diligent work professionals and salon owners are doing to keep their communities safe during the pandemic. If nobody has told you recently—your efforts are appreciated.