Back to Coronavirus Home

Learning Guide: COVID-19 and Employment Social Enterprises


Employment Social Enterprises (ESEs) can face unique challenges when it comes to ensuring the health and safety of their staff, customers, and community. Working from home isn’t an option for cafes, restaurants, manufacturing sites, and other common social enterprise business models. At the same time, suspending operations can result in the loss of income to the business and critical wages for employees. Many ESE employees also rely on the in-person support of their peers, case managers, and ESE staff in times of stress and uncertainty.

REDF is continually assembling resources on REDFworkshop for Employment Social Enterprise (ESE) leaders, staff, and members of our extended community impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. To start, we’ve summarized a few immediate recommendations for ESEs who work with particularly vulnerable populations and those experiencing severe impacts to business operations and revenue.

We’ll continue to update this site as more information becomes available on topics such as paid employee sick leave, trauma informed best practices for quarantine and social distancing, and business continuity. Please also continue to reference the Centers for Disease Control and your local public health authority for region-specific protocols and guidelines.

Tips for ESEs who work with individuals at higher risk for infectious disease exposure

Many ESEs work with individuals experiencing homeslessness or individuals currently battling drug or alcohol addiction. The experience of homelessness and the abuse of certain substances can place individuals at greater risk of exposure to infectious disease. At the same time, ESEs can serve as essential organizations as part of a broader Continuum of Care (CoC) to prepare for, mitigate, and respond to infectious diseases among higher risk populations.

The US Department of Housing and Urban development published a toolkit for preventing and managing the spread of infectious disease for individuals experiencing homelessness. We’ve summarized the key findings and recommendations that we think are most appropriate to ESEs below.

Many of the recommendations below are applicable to ALL ESEs (not just those serving populations with a higher risk of exposure). If you’ve come across any resources or information that has been particularly helpful for your organization, please send along and we’ll include it on our resource page.

1) Prepare for Infectious Disease

(*Please note: This first bullet is intended for SE’s located in geographies and cities with minimal transmission. If your region or city has been severely impacted by COVID-19, proceed to bullet #2)

  • If you haven’t already, activate (or create) your organization’s emergency preparedness policy or procedure. Page 42 of this document (which is full of other great templates, too!) has a sample infectious disease policy for shelters or other organizations working with vulnerable populations.
  • Determine where your organization may have vulnerabilities. The CDC publishes a pandemic flu checklist for businesses. It’s exhaustive, but can point out areas to focus on in your preparation.
  • Stock up on personal protective equipment and supplies to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Here’s a sample supply list (page 12), AND depending on the services you offer your organization may be eligible for grants (page 11) to cover the cost of supplies.
  • Set and model the expectation that anyone feeling ill or experiencing flu-like symptoms should not report to work, and will not be penalized for doing so.

2) REDF’s Guide to Communication in a Pandemic for ESE’s

3) CDC’s Guide to Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of Disease

TL:DR: We put together our summary of the guide’s most important points below:

  • Create easy-access opportunities for employees and customers to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer in their work flows. For example, encourage outdoor crews to stop at restaurants or gas stations in between jobs for a handwashing.
  • Reduce instances of shared surface contact where possible. For example, have customers swipe or insert their own credit cards at food and retail locations, encourage employees handling cash to wear gloves, and temporarily suspend the use of reusable cups and mugs at cafes.
  • Evaluate and/or temporarily remove employment norms regulations that may impede an employee from practicing safe behavior or cause them to expose or be exposed to others with disease. For example.
    • Temporarily remove the requirement of a Dr.’s note for sick days
    • Temporarily allow late arrivals due to alternatives to public transit (with a text or call in advance)
    • Temporarily increase the frequency of breaks to allow for additional handwashing, etc.
    • Temporarily stagger shift and break times if possible to minimize the number of employees on shift/on break at a time
    • Establish alternatives to hugs, high-fives, handshakes or other cultural norms, and involve employees in the creation of these alternatives to ensure cultural relevancy and reduce any traumatic triggers.
    • CDC guide to cleaning and disinfecting facilities, surfaces, and common areas: Disinfect commonly touched/used surfaces regularly, and make it a team effort. If possible, include your staff in creating and committing to shared cleaning jobs.

4) REDF’s Guide to Business Continuity Planning for ESE’s

Small, service-based businesses are especially vulnerable to the economic consequences of pandemic disease. We understand you may be faced with making incredibly difficult business decisions during this time, and want to share a few recommendations from our friends at ICA Fund Good Jobs and links to a few resources in hopes they may offer relief.

  • If you haven’t already, take a moment with your leadership and staff to question and assess which areas of the organization may be vulnerable to slow downs, missing orders, reduced staff, etc over the next 12-18 months. Write out each scenario, and write out a plan, even if it has holes. Scenario planning builds resilience.
  • Review business insurance policies, revenue and vendor contracts, and service agreements to see where you may have coverage for lost income or where you may need to implement alternative strategies.
  • Look (ctrl+f) for the following terms and clauses: cancellation, refunds, minimum order, force majeure, “acts of God,” and termination.
  • If possible, work with an attorney (Trust Law provides pro bono legal support for nonprofits and social enterprises) and consider amending/update contracts that are new, renewing, open to revision with any the following:
    1. Non-refundable deposits (allows you to recover at least a portion of planned revenue)
    2. Order Minimums (allows you to maintain minimum planned revenue)
    3. Shorter payment terms (e.g. 14 vs 30 days) or Late payment fees (incentivizes early, on-time payment)
    4. Cancellation policies (e.g. 100% refund greater than 30 days, no refund within 30 days)
  • If certain income streams are vulnerable or need to be shut down temporarily, ask what can be improvised.
  • Can food be delivered instead of served in person? Companies like GrubHub are making it easy for new restaurants to join their platform and in some cases waiving onboarding and delivery fees for new restaurants.
  • Can janitorial services be re-deployed as sanitation services for businesses who otherwise wouldn’t purchase regular cleaning?
  • Instead of candles and lotions, what about hand soaps, natural disinfectants and antibacterial sanitizers?
  • Can catering be redeployed as meal preparation for low income and vulnerable communities? The federal government and most states and municipalities offer meal reimbursement for businesses the prepare meals for vulnerable and low income populations.

5) REDF’s Guide to Implementing Cash Controls for ESE’s

To some extent, almost all businesses may be exercising cash controls in the coming weeks. We recommend starting the process sooner rather than later.

  • Review your aging AR report. Send friendly payment due date reminders to all current accounts, and “payment due immediately” requests to all non-current accounts. For accounts > 30 days, make daily calls and request in writing when payment is expected.
  • Call lenders and creditors and request a grace period or load modification for scheduled debt payments, or ask creditors for line extensions with modified terms.
  • Be prepared with the following before reaching out to your lender or creditor:
    • 2019 and Q1 2020 financials (as a benchmark for pre-Coronavirus performance)
    • Updated 2020 revenue and cash flow projections
    • A summary of all actions already taken by the business to control spending, protect revenue, and maintain operations
    • A summary of all additional actions that could be taken to control spending, protect revenue, and maintain operations
    • A summary of all actions already taken by the business to source emergency funding, include grants, loans, and lines of credit
    • A summary of all additional actions that could be taken by the business to source emergency funding, include grants, loans, and lines of credit
  • Call suppliers and service providers to request a longer payment period for bills due as needed. Many utility companies are offering deferred payments for impacted businesses.
  • If possible, consider reducing hours of operation with little or no revenue generation. If employees need to be laid off or have their hours significantly reduced, check your state’s updated partial unemployment (job share) program.
  • See if your enterprise is eligible for emergency small business funding. The SBA and many state and city small business development centers and SBA-approved lenders are starting to process loans made available through the CARES Act. Check in with your business banker first and/or your local small business development center for application availability or support.
  • Consider running a short-term fundraising campaign to support employee wages, or asking donors who have pledged for this year to send their pledges in now. Sara Gibson, founder of 20 degrees, lists out several other creative ways nonprofits can build resilience amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

6) Practice fairness and communication with employees

  • Use the CDC communication and trauma-informed guidelines to share business decisions you’ve made or plan to make because of the impact of COVID-19
  • Make sure that employees understand policies and regulations in place regarding sick time, paid leave, family medical leave, reduced hours, etc.