Small Business Spotlight #1, Owning & Operating a Small Business During a Pandemic

July 28th, 2020

Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP

COVID-19 has changed how we do things.  The phrase “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” did not exist before March 2020.  Our world is vastly different, and the change has affected everyone.  From hospital workers, to teachers, to flight attendants, to restaurant servers, everyone has been impacted.  No one knows this more than small business owners, the impact on them has been significant. Thousands of business have closed down, people worked their entire lives for their dream, and it is now gone.

I created a “small business spotlight” to talk about the effects of the pandemic on a personal level.  I am interviewing a business owner or leader in a small company, to hear the stories of how they got started and how they are “surviving” the COVID-19 crisis

This week, I spoke with Rhonda Bell, CVPM, CCFP, Master Life Coach and owner of Dog Days Consulting a social media consulting company. cropped-DDC-LOGO-LRG-CROP

Rhonda opened her company in January 2017 but did not actively start operating it in until 2018.  When I asked her why she had a delay she told me something very personal.  In 2017, Rhonda was diagnosed with Scleroderma which is an incurable autoimmune disease.  It is a disease that can cause hardening of the skin and other forms of connective tissue.  Unfortunately, one of the parts of the body that can be affected is the lungs, which is scary today.  Rhonda told me right when she had “the great idea to start a business, she got sick and it took some time to recover.”  She also had to adjust to the medications, what the testing would be like, what her life would be like, and realize that she could still open a business and make it successful.  So, she had a little bit of a lag, but she got through it and was able to officially start her business.

When we discussed her qualifications, she talked about being a veterinary practice manager and using those skills to help her build her business.  “Technically there’s nothing required.” “I mean, like a lot of business owners, you can start a business any day of the week and you don’t have any requirements.” Since she is a CVPM (Certified Veterinary Practice Manager), has been in the veterinary industry for about 15 years, she put all those things together and started a business.  She knew that she could not manage a veterinary hospital with her disease, but she was not done working.  “I wanted to still serve in the veterinary world and find a way to make a living at it.”

In a nutshell, Rhonda became a social media manager.  She works with small businesses, primarily veterinary, but not always.  She manages their social media presence.  She is the one that is posting the Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and Instagram pictures for businesses as though the business was doing it themselves.  She works closely with the businesses, so they know what she is doing.  Together they plan out a marketing  strategy, an agenda and work to accomplish the goals that they have set.  The focus is generally  on good communication with their client base.

When I asked her if it was hard to be a small business owner she said “yes and no.”  “My husband and I were talking about planning a vacation and that’s when it really hit me, that it’s like even if you go on vacation, you don’t really ever get to go on vacation because it’s always your business.” She feels that the one of the biggest challenges is turning it off and “finding that balance, the work-life balance.” For most people if they have a regular job, they can tell their boss, “no, I’m not going to work on weekends,” or “I want to be off this weekend.” “Well, when you’re a business owner, you don’t get to do that.”

I asked her what her biggest concern for her business was, and before COVID it was growing and maintaining her clients.  She thought “oh crud, if I get more clients, how am I going to support more clients?” “It is maintaining that growth to sustainability ratio, just making sure that I never want to take on something I can’t do and that I can’t do 110%.” She must make sure she can commit fully to any client she is referred and make sure they are a good fit for each other.

But then COVID-19, happened and everything changed.   In late March when many veterinary hospitals saw a huge drop in business, she became concerned.  What if all her clients called and said “hey, we can’t afford you because we’re not seeing our clients, that’s it.” It was scary for her to think about how long it would take to regain or rebuild those clients.  “In the end, I was extremely blessed that I didn’t lose any.”  “In fact, I gained some clients through COVID-19.”

Rhonda saw an opportunity and maybe even “a blessing in disguise” because her clients began to see how valuable social media could be in communicating with pet owners.  She knew that when she opened her business that social media was important.  However, many veterinary hospitals were not utilizing appropriately, or at all.  She realized that if she had not opened her business in 2017, she would not be in the position to help hospitals in 2020 deal with this new crisis.  She is able to help veterinary hospitals use social media better.  “It’s been very humbling, but also stressful, a lot of work.”

While Rhonda’s business got busier during the early weeks of the pandemic in the US, she noticed with most of her veterinary clients immediately took a revenue hit.  Many pet owners were concerned about money and not bringing their pets into the hospital.  Rhonda chose to significantly reduce her client’s bills for one month during that timeframe to help them.  She knew they had to pick and choose the bills they were going to pay, and she wanted to make that easier for them.  She basically just covered her costs and kept on going.  In many cases when she spoke with the practice owner, she was one of the one of the expenses they elected to keep.  “That was extremely humbling for me,” Rhonda said.  She made sure that her clients did not have any lapse in communication with their pet owners.  “Their clients still knew what was happening, they knew that hospitals were open, active and things were normal.  Despite the fact that things were not actually normal.”

Rhonda had to come up with a new strategy as a result of COVID-19.  In January 2020, preparing for her company’s growth, she had brought people on her team to help her.  By mid-March, “COVID was full blown, and we had to re-evaluate our strategies.” Rhonda had to help her hospitals determine what information to give their clients and how frequently.   “How often are we going do this?” “Because everyone wanted to know everything and everyone wanted to be an authority, but there can also be that COVID whiplash or that COVID fatigue where it’s too much.” “Now you don’t hear it anymore, you are kind of nose blind to it.” “You don’t see or smell it anymore because it’s just too much.” She had to readjust some of their branding strategies, their education strategies, and creating the balance between the types of posts she was going to put out for her clients. Now there are lot less posts about COVID-19, clients are used to the hospitals protocols and Rhonda can focus on the more “normal” part of social media.

Rhonda loves her job.  “I like helping small businesses.” “I like seeing that when we create communication, when we have clients on the other side of that, or our audience is actually responding to the stuff that we’re doing, I get a real charge out of that.” When she sees that they have created something that is meaningful or sweet and it gets shared, it means that it was impactful for that person.  The veterinary hospital gets to directly benefit from that communication.  “I just like being in a position to help small businesses do a little bit better.” “I think these big guys, the big companies and the corporations, they get a lot more help.” “They have a lot of marketing dollars back there and us little guys don’t.”   She believes that small businesses need to support one another.  “I try to buy from small business.” “I try to put my money where my mouth is.”

Rhonda wishes that small business owners would have better resources that were easier to access.  When the lockdowns started, many small business were shut down with no immediate help.  When congress authorized the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration to provide assistance, the information was convoluted and unclear.  “What money is available, what’s not available?” “How are we affected?” “How are we not affected?” Rhonda expressed the frustration that a lot of small businesses were feeling trying to figure this out.  “I don’t have a bank of lawyers.” “I don’t have a bank of accountants to guide me every step I take, It’s me.”  We need better resources that are easier to navigate, read, and understand.”

Rhonda also wishes the were more resources and explanations provided by the law makers themselves, so that businesses could have an idea of what any of the potential pitfalls might be. Many of the laws were being created and passed so quickly without any clear explanation of the intent of the law. “That’s scary stuff.” “You get a lifeline, it’s a desperate scary time, you fear for your business and your employees and their families, but this lifeline may cost you BIG TIME in the end.” Small businesses may not be able to recover from those types of consequences.

When I asked Rhonda if she would do it all over again.  She said, “I would.” “I would definitely do it all over again.” She is not sure if she would do it differently, “I had a plan for my business, but I didn’t really know what it would turn into” “Did I think I would be here three years ago?” “No.” Now, she not only has veterinary clients, but other local organizations in Floresville, TX where she resides, also use her business to run their social media.  She is helping candidates who are running for office with their campaigns.  She also has a therapy organization who wants her help to get the word out about their therapy work. “It really has blossomed into bigger and more than I thought it would.” “You just never know where the direction is going to go with your business and just putting yourself in the right place at the right time and being open to the right opportunities.”

She has servant heart and wants to help small businesses succeed. “I think that’s how we’re going to turn our economy around.” “I think that’s how we’re going to survive as a society is the Mom-and-Pop little guy.” “We have to stay in there.”

When asked what advice she would give for anyone starting their own business she responded “if you think, if you’ve even gotten to the point where you’re considering it, it’s probably a good idea and you should give it a shot.” “Go with your gut, follow your gut, work hard, and see what happens.”

I responded with “don’t fail before you even start”

About the author,

 Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP is a small business owner working as a veterinary management consultant in Southern California.  Her company South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions focuses on helping veterinary hospitals, practice owners, and their team members. 





Help, my veterinary hospital might need to close due to COVID-19 exposure. How should I prepare?

The best thing you can do is have a plan.  Have a plan for how you will communicate to the team, how you will communicate to your clients, how will you sanitize the hospital, and a long list of other things your hospital needs to do now.

But most importantly, don’t give up!  You can have a plan to help minimize the chaos that you and your employees are feeling and that will help you survive this crazy time.  

Things you should do now

  1. Get remote access to your hospital, not just for you but anyone who is going to be working from home.
    1. Will you provide those employees with work computers or will they use their own?
  2. If you will have team members working from home, will they be able to answer the phones?
    1. Contact your phone provider and see if calls can be rerouted to cell phones and what you will need to do to make this happen.
  3.  Determine, who will handle client questions or problems while you are closed.  I recommend having more than one person in case that person is sick.
  4. Talk to other clinics in the area and create a plan with them so they can help your clients & patients. Do not worry about competition because right now your clients & patients need you.
  5. Talk to your alarm company about what you will need to do for prolonged absence from your building.
  6. If appropriate, contact your local police department and notify them you building might be vacant for a period of time.
  7. Determine what you will do with the cash & controlled drugs in your hospital while you are closed.
  8. If you have hospital pets, who will take care of them? (include your fish/reptiles/small mammals)

Things you need to think about for the immediate future

  1. Think about what you will no longer have access to if you are not in the hospital
    1. Important documents
    2. Records
    3. Important information saved in “one” computer
    4. Other things that are important to you 
    5. How will you do payroll?
      1. What type of pay will your employees receive while you are closed?
        1. FFCRA leave, PTO, SICK, VACA, etc.
  1. Employee communication
    1. Who will the staff be communicating with during this time? And how they will be doing this?
      1. Do you need to set up a text chain, use email, or a simple phone call?
        1. Some resources for instant team communication
          1. Slack
          2. Group Me
          3. Whats App
      2. How often will they be notified of the updates?
        1. Daily, weekly, etc.
        2. Will you require your team members to check in with you weekly?
      3. Do you have all of your employees contact information easily accessible? Do they have each others contact information?
      4. Do you have emergency contact info for your employees? Meaning do you have a friend or relative that you will be able to reach in case you can’t reach the employee.
      5. If you have to close, should your employees take their belonging with them (including any food in the fridge)?
  1. Client communication
    1. How will you notify your clients of the closure and any other communication needed?
      1. Social media
      2. Website
      3. Email
    2. What will you do with the client pets that are in the hospital?
      1. What if they are boarding and you can’t reach the client?
    3. What will happen with the future appointments?
      1. Will you call them?
      2. Send an email?
      3. Text?
        1. And who be doing this?  Assign multiple people this job in case one of them gets sick in the future.
    4. How will your clients get their food/prescription refills? Will you have a doctor able to check those things?
      1. What happens if clients request refills through your online pharmacy? Will they get approved or do you have to do that each time?
    5. Who will be checking the clinic email/fax?
      1. Make sure you have enough paper in the fax machine if you have to close.
    6. Will you be able process payments from clients while you are closed?
    7. How will clients get their records?
    8. How will clients get the pending lab results? Who will review & call them?
    9. How will you check the hospital v/m?
  1. Vendor Communication
    1. Notify any regular lab pick-up/cremation company, post office that you are closed.
    2. How will you handle deliveries that are being shipped to you?
      1. Food
      2. Inventory
      3. Office supplies
      4. UPS/FEDEX, etc.
    3. Do you have your reps and vendors contact information? They might be able to help during this time.
    4. What the deceased pets that are in your freezer? What will happen with the ashes/paw prints that are being delivered?
    5. Do you have any equipment that was borrowed or getting shipped back that you will need to communicate to the company about?
  1. Hospital Stuff
    1. How will your bills get paid?
    2. Will you need to turn off any equipment or computers?
      1. Does any of it need to be cleaned before closing?
    3. Who is going to make sure that hospital is safe while you are gone?
    4. If YOU, the manager, owner, leader gets sick, who is supposed to make the decisions?
    5. Practice owners, do you have your clinic protected in case you are hospitalized and unable to make decisions for the business?

How will you disinfect your hospital while you are closed, or to help prevent closing?  Have a professional company do this, DO NOT try to do this yourself.

Some companies that do clean up and disinfect for COVID-19

  1. ServePro
    1. Phones open 24 hours, service most of SOCAL
    2. 800-737-8776 (headquarters direct #)
    3. You will need to know the square footage of the building
  2. servicemaster
    1. Phones open 24 hours, service most of SOCAL
    2. 800-737-7663
  3. Janiking
    1. Service SOCAL
    2. 972-991-0900
  4. Stratus Building Solutions (not sure of areas of service)
    1. 818-981-1700
  5. Actionduct (not sure of areas of service)
    1. 800-371-2284
  6. Central Valley Corp (not sure of areas of service)
    1. 855-912-6787


What should I do if an employee is suspect or confirmed to have a case of COVID-19?

 Guidance for confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace

The following information is combined from different pages from the CDC website link above.

In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility. But do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person:

  • Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible GET A PROFESSIONAL CLEANER.
  • During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in these areas.

Timing and location of cleaning and disinfection of surfaces

  • At a school, daycare center, office, or other facility that does not house people overnight:
    • Close off areas visited by the ill persons. Open outside doors and windows and use ventilating fans to increase air circulation in the area.
    • Wait 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
    • Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment (like tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATM machines) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces. – I recommend contacting a professional COVID–19 cleaning service, listed at the end of the document. 
    • If you are cleaning it yourself, clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
    • To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2external iconexternal icon, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
    • Always wear gloves and gowns appropriate for the chemicals being used when you are cleaning and disinfecting.
    • You may need to wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) depending on the setting and disinfectant product you are using.

In addition to cleaning and disinfecting, employers should determine which employees may have been exposed to the virus and need to take additional precautions:

Most work places will follow these basic CDC guidelines

Critical infostructure guidelines

Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps.

Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider and state or local health department.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What should I do if I find out several days later, after an employee worked, that they were diagnosed with COVID-19?

  • If it has been less than 7 days since the sick employee used the facility, clean and disinfect all areas used by the sick employee following the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
  • If it has been 7 days or more since the sick employee used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. Continue routinely cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces in the facility.
  • Other employees may have been exposed to the virus if they were in “close contact” (within approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) of the sick employee for a prolonged period of time.
  • Employees not considered exposed should self-monitor for symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

Here is another really good resource from the CDC for business guidance

Written by,

Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP


“6 ways to keep your pet safer during the COVID-19 crisis.” by Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca


Photo by RK Jajoria on

The COVID-19 crisis has changed our lives in many ways, and one of them is how much time we are spending with our pets.  Many states and counties are “sheltering in place” so we are home all the time.  I know many of us are trying to stay as busy as possible but let us be honest, we are bored.  As a result, we are walking our dogs more to get out of the house and spend some time outdoors.  Our dogs love all the time we are spending with them, but there are things to consider before taking your dog outside around other people, other pets, and even wildlife.

“My dog doesn’t need a leash, until he does”

Most cities and counties have leash laws that require you to keep your dog on a leash when out in public.  This is meant not only for your dog’s protection, but the protection of others as well.  Leashes provide us with comfort and peace of mind that we can maintain better control of our dogs if it becomes necessary.  Many of you might say “my dog always listens to me and doesn’t need a leash.”  This might be true that under most normal circumstances, but what about the abnormal ones?  Recently I was walking my dogs and my girl dog Foxy saw a squirrel.  Squirrels are Foxy’s nemesis, so she immediately went into hunting mode, barking, whining, and trying to go after the squirrel.  If she was not wearing her harness and leash, she could have easily run into traffic and been hit by a car, even though she normally follows my commands.

As a veterinary professional, I have worked in general practice and emergency medicine.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen dogs who were off leash who were hit-by-a-car and the owners tell us “she just ran out and didn’t listen to me.”  It is very devastating to both the beloved pets and their owners when this happens.  And it is easily preventable by always having a leash on your dog.

Another problem with off leash dogs is they cannot be controlled by their owner if they get into a fight with another dog.  Many of the emergencies that come into veterinary hospitals are pets who are attacked by an off-leash dog.  Recently a dog was brought into a local emergency hospital because he had been off leash when he was attacked by a dog who had slipped its collar.  If the smaller dog had been on leash the owner would have had more control of it and may have been able to intervene before the bigger dog attacked.

If you are looking for a good leash  Selina Tedesco, Good Housekeeping Institute studied a variety of leashes and put together a list of  the 10 Best Dog Leashes for Every Type of Dog.  There are many different leash options and you should get one that fits your dog.  You also need make sure that if you are using a collar with the leash, that the collar is snug enough to be comfortable for the dog but also will not slip off the dog’s head.

“Why retractable leashes are a bad idea”

Retractable leashes are supposed to make pet owners lives easier by allowing pets more freedom on walks and still allowing owners to have control over the dog.  Or so you would think.  Unfortunately, many times retractable leashes can lead to accidents and trauma for our dogs.  Recently, I was discussing leashes with my neighbor, when she told me about how her husband had used a retractable leash on his previous dog.  His dog was hit hit-by-a-car while it was on the leash, because the lead was too long for him to pull the dog back in time. Dogs have also been known to be attacked by coyotes or other animals when on retractable leash because they are so far away from their owner and the coyotes were able to grab them.  Dr. Karen Becker discusses 10 reasons not to use a retractable leash for the safety of your dog.

“Don’t worry, my dog doesn’t bite”

I have heard these famous last words many times in the 17 years I have worked in the veterinary field.  As an avid pet owner, I have said these same words myself.  The truth is that almost all dogs bite when put in situations and circumstances where they feel uncomfortable.  All dogs are unpredictable and honestly even the sweetest, most docile dog can react out of pain or fear.  When you are walking your dog be careful when approaching other dogs and their owners.  Even if your dog is the nicest animal, that does not mean that the other dog is.  I have two small dogs and even though they are sweet when we are home, when we are out walking, they are like a “little gang” who does not like other dogs.  I am also very leery of dogs who off leash because if they approach my dogs, I honestly do not know how my dogs will react.

If you are on a walk and your dog wants to greet another dog do not assume that the other dog wants to be greeted, even if the other owner says they are friendly.  Dogs communicate through very well through body language, so you should pay attention to what they are telling you.  Best Friends Animal Society has some great information on dog behavior and what to look for when approaching a dog that you do not know.

“We are baking more, and the dogs love it”

We know that grocery stores have been running out of toilet paper and pasta, but did you know that they are also running out of baking supplies?  Many Americans have taken up baking again and while this is great for the family, it is not so great for the dogs.  Many human foods like chocolate are toxic to most animals, but especially dogs.  Raisins, nuts, and yeast can cause anything from GI upset to death when consumed in certain amounts.  We know that our dogs can be sneaky and get into food when we are not looking.  Now is the time to use extra precaution when baking in larger amounts than we usually do. The ASPCA has more information on people foods to avoid feeding your pets and what to do if your dog consumes them.

“It’s spring and the bees are out”

Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year in California and this year is no exception.  All the flowers are blooming, including the poppies, and with those beautiful flowers come the bees!  Since many of us are home quarantined, we are working in our gardens and talking long walks with our dogs and putting them in the proximity of these “little buggers.” The best way to prevent our dogs from getting stung is to keep them away from bushes and shrubbery, but it is hard to stop a curious dog.  Dogs are easily stung by bees, wasps, hornets, and even ants.  Many of these stings will occur on the dog’s nose and facial area.

It is important to recognize when your dog has been stung and take the appropriate action.  If your dog starts pawing at their face or biting their feet for no reason, it is possible that they have been bit or stung.  If you think they have been stung or bit, please immediately look for the insect could have bit them in case your dog has a reaction.  There is first aid for insect stings in dogs that you might be able to provide your dog.  However, if your dog has severe swelling, develops hives, has difficulty breathing excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, or seizures, call your veterinarian immediately

“Don’t clean your pet’s feet or body with Lysol”

The COVID-19 virus has all of us on edge and there is new information about the virus every day.  Some new information from the CDC indicates that the COVID-19 virus can be can spread 13 feet, travel on shoes but those studies are still early and they do not have enough sufficient data to know for certain.  However, this is causing some concern for pet owners, and some owners are sanitizing their dogs after coming back inside from walks.  If you want to clean your pets after taking them for a walk please do not use Lysol or any other cleaner not meant for animals.  Dawn soap mixed with water can be used to clean your dog’s feet and even be used to give them a bath.  Do not use any other type of dish soap as Dawn has specific chemicals that are safe for animals.  In fact, it is the soap used to clean marine life in oil spills.

There are new concerns about pets especially cats, being able to contract the virus.  The AVMA has additional information on SARS-CoV-2 in animals.  The CDC recommends the following:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Keeping animals safe during this crisis is our responsbility as pet owners.  Our pets rely on us to keep them safe and we need to use good judgement before reacting to the media reports and information.


Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca






COVID-19 Federal & CA State Leave Laws

**I attended a webinar on 3/20/2020 presented by HR Network and this is a transcript of the information regarding the Coronavirus COVID-19 and some HR laws at of 3/18/2020… Melissa Tompkins**

Review of HR 6201: Families First Coronavirus Response Act

CA Shelter in place

8 Week social contract

  • All Californians to remain at home unless they have need to leave for “essential” activities and work
  • “Essential activities” – groceries, food pick-up, prescriptions/health care, banking, hardware supplies, care for a friend or relative, walking the dog and taking outdoor exercise such as walking, running, or hiking. When people do go out, they should practice social distancing.
  • Those whose work is considered “essential” are also permitted to leave the house to continue their work. Essential businesses included health care facilities, grocery stores, and other food markets, banks, media services, hardware stores, laundromats, and delivery services among others.

Who is still open?

  • Businesses that provide essential services will remain open. They include grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, pharmacies, and other health care providers, new outlets, banks and laundromats. Restaurants can still provide take-out food and make deliveries. Businesses involved in constructions and essential infrastructure such as plumbers, electricians, gas stations, auto repair shops, and hardware stores are also exempt. Public transportation and utilities will continue to provide service.


  • Misdemeanor penalties apply but the governor said he hopes law enforcement won’t need to enforce the order and believes social pressure will encourage people to do the right thing.

Emergency Paid Leave Benefits

  • Creates a new federal emergency paid leave benefit program
  • Eligible workers will receive a benefit for a month (up to three months) in which they must take 14 or more days of leave from their work due to qualifying COVID-19 related reasons.
  • Days when an individual receives pay from their employer (regular wages, sick pay, or other paid time off) or unemployment compensation do not count as leave days for the purposes of this benefit.

Specifications of Emergency Paid Leave

Administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA)

  • Benefit amount: 2/3 of the individual’s average month earning (based on the most recent year of wages or self-employment income for which records are readily available), up to a cap of $4000
  • Program and benefit period: The benefits will be available for leave that occurs from January 19, 2020 (the date of the first US COVID-19 diagnosis) through one year after the bill’s enactment.
  • Retroactive benefits: Benefits can be paid retroactively, and applications can be filed up to 6 months after enactment.
  • Application: Applications will be taken online, by phone, or my mail. Payments in most case will be issues electronically.

*Benefits paid out until the program are not subject to federal income taxes

Paid Sick Days

  • Requires all employers to allow employees to gradually accrue seven days of paid sick leave. **I am waiting on more information to confirm this***
    • ***UPDATED 3/23/20, in the original bill, it was proposed to have employers allow 7 days of paid sick leave, that did not make it to the final bill approved on 3/18/20 and is not required****
  • Requires all employers to provide an additional 14 days (10 business days) of paid sick leave available immediately at the beginning of a public health emergency included the current coronavirus crisis

*Effective immediately upon date of enactment.

UPDATED 3/25/2020 Effective Date Changed to 4/1/2020

Why didn’t big business have to participate? Because they didn’t want the taxpayer to have to pay the bill.


Applies to private employers with fewer than 500 employees

  • Eligible employees
    • Full-time employees: who work 80 hours or more in a two-week period
    • Part-time employees: the # of hours that they work, on average, over a two-week period.

Paid Sick Leave Protected Absences

  1. Employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19 (All of California that is taken off work)
  2. Employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19
  3. To obtain a medical diagnosis if the employee has symptoms of COVID-19
  4. Employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order describe in subparagraph 1 or 2 above.
  5. To care for the employee’s child if the child’s school or place of care have been closed, or the childcare provided of the child is unavailable, provided that all deductions made on written orders of the employee may be aggregated and shown as one item to do so, due to COVID-19 precautions.
  6. Employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the “secretary of Health & Human Services”, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury & the Secretary of Labor. (don’t know exactly what that is yet)
  7. Also allows for construction workers to receive sick pay based on hours they work for multiple contractors.

Amount Paid

  • Sick time for reasons 1,2,& 3, is at the employee’s regular rate of pay, based on the number of hours the employee others would be scheduled to work, capped at $511 per day and $5110 total. (quarantined or diagnosed)
  • Sick time sued for reasons 4,5, & 6, however is at two-thirds of the employees’ regular rate of pay, capped at $200 per day and $2,000 totally. (care for another has similar conditions)

Additional Rules

  • Emergency Paid Sick Time is in addition to any sick time the employer already provides.
  • The Employer may not change existing sick leave policy
    • What about employer with PTO policy and not vacation & sick?
      • Need to make sure that at least 3 days of that PTO program be allowed to be used as sick leave and subject to the sick leave rules.
    • All employees, with at least 30 days of employment, immediately qualify.
    • The Employer cannot require the employees to use other forms of sick leave.
    • Expires end of 2020. Employer not required to pay for unused Paid Sick Time.

Coordination with Other Programs

  • Protection of existing benefit rights. Existing benefit rights are protected, including any right to State or local paid leave benefits, and great benefits are allowed including under a contract, collective bargaining agreement, or other employment benefit program.
  • Reduction based on receipt of state or private paid leave. Benefit amounts are offset (reduced) dollar-for-dollar by the amount of any stats or private paid leave benefit the individual also receives.
  • No effect on eligibility for SSI: Benefits paid under this program to not count as income or resources for the Supplement Security Income (SSI) programs.

Emergency Family & Medical Leave Expansion (EFMLA) 

  • Applies to employers with few than 500 employees.
    • Note, small business with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from Emergency FMLA I the required leave would jeopardize the viability of their business.
  • Up to 12 weeks of leave (first 10 days unpaid, then 2/3 off regular rate of pay for the number of hours the employee would typically work during the leave period – up to $200/day, or $10,000 total)
  • Covered leave available to those with a “qualifying need related to a public health emergency” (includes employees who are “Unable to work or telework”) because of thee need to care for the employees’ child (under 18) if the child’s school or daycare has been closed, or the child’s care provider is unavailable to do so due to a public health emergency).

 Emergency FMLA Expansion (1 of 3)

The Families First Act also temporarily provides emergency FMLA leave for a “qualified need related to public health emergency”.

  • Coverage & Eligibility: For specified COVID-19 related reasons, the current employee threshold for coverage is changed from covering employees with 50 or more employees to covering any workplace with few than 500 employees. Employee eligibility requirements for emergency FMLA area also lowered. Instead of working 1,250 hours I the preceding 12 months, the emergency RMLA provisions apply to any employee who has been employer for at least 30 days.
  • Reason for leave: The employee may only take emergency FMLA leave when the employee is unable to work (or telework/remote work) due to a new to care for the employee’s child under 18 years of age if the school or place of care has been closed or the child care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency, meaning an emergency related to COVID-19.

Emergency FMLA Expansion (2 of 3) 

  • Paid leave: Unlike standard FMLA leave, a significant portion of the emergency FMLA leave must be paid. The first 100 days of emergency FMLA leave may be unpaid. Employees may elect to substitute vacation, personal leave or paid sick leave during that time.
  • After the first 10 days, the employer must pay full-time employees at a rate of no less than 2/3 of their regular rate of pay for the hours normally scheduled. Employees who work part-time irregular schedules are entitled to a rate based on the average number of hours worked over a six-month period. If they haven’t worked that long, then they are entitled to the average number of hours per day that the employee would normally be scheduled to work. Paid leave under this law is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate, per individual.

 Emergency FMLA Expansion (3 of 3) 

  • Job Protection: As with standard FMLA leave, the emergency leave is protected, meaning an employer must return the employee to the same or equivalent position upon their return. But small employers with few than 25 employees are exempted if the position does not exist due to economic conditions or other changes in operating conditions that affect employment and are caused by a public health emergency. However, the employee must make reasonable efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position and if those efforts fail, the employer must make reasonable efforts to contact the employee if an equivalent position opens with in year.

*NOTE: The DOL must issue guidelines by April 2nd to assist employer in calculating how much paid leave their employees should get.

UPDATE 3/25/20 Effective Date was changed to April 1st 2020

*Guidelines might change on this in the future

Small Business Reimbursement

Reimburses small business with 50 employees or less for the costs of providing the 14 days of additional paid sick leave used by employees during a public health emergency.

How will businesses and nonprofit afford to pay workers on leave?

  • They will be reimbursed for the full amount within three months, in the form of a payroll tax credit. (The Trump administration has said it will advance the money earlier for employers that can’t wait that long). The reimbursement will also cover thee employer’s contribution to health insurance premiums during the leave. It’s full refundable, which means that if the amount that employers pay works who take leave is larger than what they own in taxes, the government will send them a check for the remainder. (That goes for self-employed and gig economy workers, too).

 Small Business Exemption & Tax Credits

  • Small Business Exemption: The Secretary of Labor is authorized to issue regulations to exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders and to exempt small business with fewer than 50 employees from its requirements when they would jeopardize the viability of the business.
  • Tax Credits: Like paid sick leave, employers will be provided with quarterly tax credits for paid family leave, allowing credits against the employer’s portion of Social Security Taxes. Employers are entitled to credit for qualified family leave wages, up to $200 per day for each individual and $10,000 total with respect to all calendar quarters.

*The Emergency FMLA program will take effect on April 2nd and remain in effect until December 31st, 2020. 

Other Methods of Income Replacement 

  • Paid Leave Bank
  • Vacation & PTO
  • State and local paid sick leave

Can I force employees to use paid vacation or sick leave?

  • Federal DOL FAQ: “A private employer may direct exempt staff to take vacation or debit their sick leave bank account in the case of an office closure.”

Leave information

  • Disability Insurance – If employee is unable to work due to a medical quarantine or illness related to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional).
  • Paid Family Leave – If unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional).
    • This can also be used if has childcare issues
  • Unemployment – If you have lost your job or have had your hours reduced for reasons related to the COVID-19
  • Paid sick leave – If you or a family member are sick or for preventative care when civil authorities recommend quarantine.
  • Workers comp – If you are unable to do your usual job because you were exposed to and contracted the COVID-19 during the regular course of your work, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation benefits.
  • Can file claim if they contract the virus directly from the business, might be difficult to prove though.
  • Can only claim workers comp or paid leave, cannot do both together.

 California Unemployment Insurance Benefit Programs

  • Work Share – 2 employees share one job, 20-60% reduction in hours/pay
    • Employees file unemployment claim
    • Employer is required to provide a notice of reduced earnings (can get notice
      • Each week Employer would need to provide unemployment office with a copy of payroll records to show reduction in pay
    • Partial benefits – 50% more reduction in pay/hours
      • Provide employees with a notice of reduced earnings work
        • Each week Employer would need to provide unemployment office with a copy of payroll records to show reduction in pay
      • Full Benefits
        • Furlough – stays on payroll, to be called back, not required to look for other work.
        • Layoff – terminated from payroll, required to look for other work (may be waived).

Deductions from Exempt Employee Salaries 

  • What if an exempt employee has no vacation or sick leave to use and works a portion of the week?
  • If exempt employee is directed to stay home; Exempt employees do not need to be paid for any complete “workweek” in which they perform no work.
    • If they have vacation or sick leave, you can supplement days they didn’t work with vacation or sick leave.
    • But if they work any part of the week and they don’t have vacation or sick to supplement it, you must pay them for the whole week.
  • If exempt employees absent themselves for personal reasons and have exhausted their sick leave balance, the employer can make deductions from salary for full day absences, but not partial day absences.

*Note, be explicit that employees shouldn’t perform any work from home, even checking email is considered work.  

Reduction to Exempt Employee Salaries

  • Reduction in pay & hours to avoid layoffs
  • Across-the-board salary reduction (can’t pick and choose, must be everyone)
  • Prospective only
    • Meaning, the next pay period, can’t do is the last pay period started previously.

*In a series of opinion letters, the federal DOL & CA DLSE has advised that temporary reductions to exempt employees’ salaries and hours do not violate the salary basis test when done during sever economic conditions to avoid layoffs.

Expense Reimbursement for Remote Workers

Are we required to reimburse for home internet and other expenses associated with remote work?

  • CA – Employer is obligated to reimburse for home internet, or other expenses associated with remote work.
  • Federal –
    • Employers may not require employees who are covered by the FLSA to pay or reimburse the employer for {additional costs that employees incur if they work from home}, if doing so reduces the employee’s earning below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation.
    • Employers can supplement pay based on what it is you are providing them.
      • Suggest for employer come up with a fair dollar amount of what expense is and provided them with that.
        • It is taxable income

Warn Act Overview 

Federal and state WARN Acts generally require 60 days’ advanced notice of plant closings, mass layoffs, and similar events, counting employment losses toward the thresholds.

CA Warn – Covered establishment is any “industrial or commercial facility” the employees or has employed 75 or more person over the last year, triggered by termination, mass layoff, and relocation of 50 or more employees.

*How to count remote employees?

  • Fed Warn – general counted as being employed in a single site
  • CA Warn – unanswered, follow federal. 

California WARN Act Suspended For COVID-19 Emergency

Warn Act – Failure to provide the 60 days’ notice exposes employees to liability for up to 60 days back pay and the value of benefits for all laid off employees plus additional civil penalties, which can be recovered under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA)

*Governor Newsome relaxed the CA Warn Notice requirements, but employers MUST provide UI info & give a Warn Notice as soon as possible.

  • Still need to notify the department the CA DOL

OSHA Guidance & Requirements

  • OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID
  • OSHA 3990-03 2020 – can be downloaded
  • OSHA 3990-03 Booklet

Recordable Illness

  • COVID-19 is a “recordable” illness, *if infection occurs at the workplace*
    • Must be a “confirmed” case of COVID-19
    • Workplace infection may be difficult to prove
  • If not obvious, employer must “evaluate the employee’s work duties & environment to decide whether or not one or more events or exposures in the work environment either causes or contributed.” to the illness.

Employees Refusing to Work

What if my employee is afraid to come to work, or wants to stay home with family?

  • CA & OSHA Regs – cannot retaliate against an employee who has a good faith safety concern.
  • Unpaid time off, not eligible for UI benefits. May allow employee to use vacation

Requiring Dr.’s Notes

Employee says, “I’m fine (after 14 days of quarantine), can I come back to work?

  • Employer can require a doctor’s note but considering situation may be difficult to get.
  • Recommendation is that employers look for signs that employee may be ill
    • Fever
    • Shortness of breath
    • Cough
  • If employee exhibits any of those signs it is okay for employer to not allow them to come back to work.
  • EEOC has made it legal to for the employer to take employee’s temperatures before walking through the door.

Information presented by

Audrianne Adams Lee, SPHR, President HR Network

HR NETWORK 3/20/2020 11:AM PST

Summary from HR Network Coronavirus Presentation 3/20/2020 11:00 am PST

Important Links:


CDC Coronavirus COVID-19

Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) Resources for Employers and Workers

How to protect your family and pets in the event of an earthquake, vital supplies to have on hand, by Melissa Tompkins

Earthquakes are a looming threat here in California.  The “‘big one” is always near and we never know when it will strike.  Being prepared is important and something that we cannot afford not to do.

You should prepare yourself for two things, either you will be evacuated or restricted to your home.

Forced evacuation

In the event that you are forced to evacuate I recommend that you have a back pack with travel supplies in it.  One back pack for each person and one for your pets.  Prepare & store the back packs a head of time so that they are easy to grab in a quick evacuation.  Have extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes if you have to evacuate.  Also, if you have smaller animals that you will have to carry, make sure to have lightweight sherpa bags to use instead of just the big plastic ones.

EXTRA CASH – you may not be able to use your debit or credit cards

Food ideas

It is very important that you have non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home).

  • Beef Jerky
  • apple sauce packets
  • protein bars
  • peanut butter crackers
  • cans of fruit
  • cans of vegetables
  • cans of beans
  • container of nuts
  • can of tuna or chicken
  • pudding containers (the no fridge kind)
  • MRE’s if desired
  • Double zipper bag everything individually
  • Put tape on the food stuffs with the expiration date written LARGE on it so you can see it in low light


Water is an essential resource and you may be without running water for an unknown period of time.  Do not count on being able to buy it at the grocery store once the earthquake hits.  Have at lease one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home).  If you have animals, you will need at least one gallon for them as well.

Have a water filter drinking straw or water filtration device or bleach tablets in case you need to purify your water source.

First aid & toiletries

Having a first aid kit is imperative for treating minor injuries.  Getting medical assistance may be extremely difficult after a large earthquake so I recommend that you have more than one kit.  Have multiple kits for your home and another in your car since you may not be home when the earthquake happens.

Make sure that you have plenty of toilet paper and even feminine hygiene products, as pads can also be used for wound care.

You should not use your gallons of water to bathe with.  I recommend that you have baby wipes, at least two containers per person.  Get some dry shampoo, this is an excellent way to keep your hair cleaner.

If you take prescriptions, make sure you have at least a 7 day of your medications.  Pharmacies may not be open to give refills so don’t let yourself get low.

Safety stuff

Whether you are restricted to your home or evacuated there may be dangers everywhere.  Have a multi-use tool (like a Leatherman’s) easily available.

Make sure that you know how to turn off the gas in your home in case gas your line ruptures, which could easily cause an explosion.

Make sure that you have plenty of flashlights (at least one for each person). If possible get some collapsible solar lights so that you do not have to have as many batteries.

Get a two way radio.  Visibility and hearing may be limited and this will be important if you have to leave any where on foot.

Have a short wave radio –

  • They also have emergency radios at Bed Bath and Beyond.
  • Get the hand crank/solar emergency radio/flashlight/USB charger kind.

Extra batteries are very important.  Go through your supplies and determine what kind of batteries you will need to have on hand.

Make sure that you have an extra set of car keys and house keys in case you get separated or one of your family is injured.

The air may be filled with smoke, powder, gas, or other chemicals so I recommend that you have face masks on hand.

You may not have access to a heat source and if it is winter time the temperatures can drop quickly at night.  Get a Fire starter kit or long burning candle for heat as well as warming food.  Make sure that there are no gas leaks nearby.

Get an emergency flare, like ORION flares, this source of light, recognized by search and rescue internationally as an emergency distress sign.  It can also be source of heat & light, long shelf life and weather resistant. They are flammable solids but not unstable, once lit  they will continue to burn because the chemicals are oxidizers so they generate their own oxygen to support the flame (even drop them in water the keep burning until they run out of fuel).

Make sure you have plenty of blankets accessible, get the super thin aluminum foil kind and put in your backpack if you are evacuated.  Also get a rain poncho if needed and put it in the backpack as well.

You may need to get gasoline which may be very difficult during this time.  Make sure that you have some empty gas cans at home and if it is safe to store, have an extra gallon on hand.

Small but important supplies

  • A whistle, if you are trapped somewhere this can be used to identify your location.
  • Towels.
  • Work gloves.
  • Duct tape.
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home.
  • Extra ammo if you have guns.
  • Plastic sheeting.
  • Scissors.
  • Household liquid bleach.

Lack of sewage

If the water is not running, than neither is your toilet.  It will be essential that human waste is disposed of properly.  Get large buckets lined with heavy duty lawn bags with a little kitty litter for a make shift potty.

Personal use items

Make sure that you have copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies).

Write all of your medical, allergy and other information on cards and get some lamination plastic to seal them, separate cards for each member of the family (including critters).

Make sure you have your cell phone charger.  If you get the portable charging station with hand crank you will be able to charge your phone.

Make sure that you have your family and emergency contact information and maps of the area.

Entertainment items

Consider the needs of all family members and add supplies to your kit.  Have any necessary medical supplies on hand like hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.  If you have small children make sure that you have baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers).

Importantly, have games and activities for children.  After the initial disaster happens there will be lot of wait time, games and activities will help keep the kids calmer.

Pet Safety Kit

Here is a list of things to think about for your pet:

  • #1 Make sure all of your pets are microchipped! What if you are not home when the emergency happens? What if they get scared and get out? How will you identify them?  Microchips are the easiest way to protect them.
  • Have contact info for you neighbors in case you are not home and they are able to help get your pet safely out of your home.
  • Know which hotels are pet friendly in a 10 mile radius of your home.  Remember, not all evacuation shelters will allow pets so it is important that you know where you can go.
  • Food: Keep at least three days of food in an airtight, waterproof container. Make sure you also have a bowl to feed your animals with.
  • Water: Store at least three days of water specifically for your pet(s), this is in addition to water you’ll need for yourself and family.  Make sure you have a bowl for this as well.
  • Medications: Keep an extra supply of medications your pet takes on a regular basis; store in a waterproof container. Remember, veterinary hospitals may not be open if they are also affected by the disaster, so you may not be able to get a refill on important medications.
  • Collar with ID tag, harness and/or leash: Your pet should always wear a collar with its rabies tag and identification. Makes sure you have your pets micro-chip ID number accessible to you
  • First Aid Kit: Talk to our veterinarian about what is most appropriate for your pet’s emergency medical needs.
  • Most kits should at least include:
    • Conforming stretch gauze bandage material (2” x 75”) – can be used to create a pressure wrap, sterile gauze pads (4”x4”) – can be cut to smaller size if needed
    • bandage tape
    • cotton tipped applicators
    • antibiotic ointment
    • flea and tick prevention
    • latex gloves
    • antiseptic wipes
    • anti-clotting powder
    • povidone-iodine prep pads
    • saline solution
    • tweezers, and scissors.
    • protective paws covers – remember there may be broken glass around, you need something to protect their feet if they have to walk on the ground.
  • Important Documents: Place copies of your pet’s registration information, adoption papers, vaccination documents and medical records in a clean plastic/waterproof container and add them to your kit.
  • Muzzle for your dog or cat.  Your pets are likely to be stressed or injured and may bite as a reaction to fear or pain.
  • Crate and another pet carrier: If you need to evacuate in an emergency you will need a safe place to transport your pet in. This is especially true for cats and smaller pets.
  • Sanitation: Cat litter & a litter box if possible.  Paper towels, newspaper, plastic trash bags and house hold coloring bleach will help to provided sanitation if/when needed. You can use bleach as a disinfectant (dilute nine parts water to one-part bleach). Use 8 drops of regular household bleach per gallon of water, stir well and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before use. DO NOT use scented or color safe bleaches or those with added cleaners.
  • A picture of you and your pet together: If you become separated from your pet during an emergency, a picture of you and your pet together will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you in identifying your pet. Include detailed information about species, breed, age, color and distinguishing characteristics/markings.
  • Familiar items: Put favorite toys, treats or bedding in your kit. Familiar items can help reduce stress for your pet.

Emergencies are scary and can be life changing.  To protect all of your loved ones, both human and animal, the most important thing you can do is to be prepared.

Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM

selective focus photography of white and tan shih tzu puppy carrying by smiling woman

Photo by Helena Lopes on