Now what? Grand Valley businesses face changes

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Jeff Kuhr
Michael Santo
Jon Maraschin

So what’s next for Grand Valley businesses?

While pandemic restrictions on capacity, social distancing and face coverings have eased, some businesses will continue to implement precautions.

More employees who were working remotely will return to work, but employers face a changing landscape of laws and regulations.

In the face of so many changes brought on by the pandemic, business owners and managers will have to adapt to make sure their operations remain relevant and take advantage of new opportunities.

It’s important for owners and managers to ask questions and tap resources as well as get involved in the policy making affecting their operations.

A panel of three experts shared their advice at a presentation offered as part of the latest Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce quarterly membership meeting. The panel included Jeff Kuhr, executive director of Mesa County Public Health; Michael Santo, managing attorney of the Bechtel & Santo employment law firm in Grand Junction; and Jon Maraschin, executive director of the Business Incubator Center.

Kuhr said COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have eased under the Free to Choose resolution now in effect in Mesa County. The resolution allows businesses to choose whether or not to limit capacity or require face coverings, social distancing and other safety measures.

While some businesses will drop restrictions, others will continue to enforce them. Moreover, some businesses still must comply with state and federal regulations as well as corporate policies, Kuhr said.

The 5-Star Program, an effort of Mesa County Public Health and Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, will continue to recognize participating businesses implementing COVID-19 precautions, Kuhr said.

Businesses require employees to wear masks or provide proof of vaccinations as well as monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Businesses also maintain social distancing of at least 3 feet between people and use clear plastic barriers. While it’s preferred that businesses require customers to wear masks when entering, moving about and exiting, businesses also can encourage mask use, he said.

With the Free to Choose resolution in place, it’s up to individuals to protect themselves from COVID-19, Kuhr said.

Santo said as more employees return to work, employers face what he called a constantly changing landscape of federal, state and local laws and regulations.

A new paid sick leave law went into effect in Colorado in January, one that will apply to employers with less than 16 employees starting in 2022, he said.

Under the new law, employees accrue an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they work and may roll over unused sick leave at the end of the year, he said.

As for COVID-19 vaccines, Santo said it’s permissible for employers to ask for proof of vaccinations, but also must accommodate objections based on disabilities or religious beliefs. It’s as yet unclear whether or not employers should provide incentives to employees to obtain vaccinations.

Maraschin said business owners and managers face what he described as a “fire hose” of change brought on by the pandemic.

Hybrid workplaces with a mix of employees working onsite and from home are possible, although some employees are eager to return to work because they miss the interaction, he said. Many employees have found a balance between work and life and will be reluctant to disrupt that.

Online shopping is likely to continue to increase.

Santo said it’s more important than ever that business owners are involved in policymaking affecting their operations. “Get into politics or get out of business.”

Maraschin said it’s important that business owners and managers evaluate their business models and plans to both ensure their operations are still relevant, but also take advantage of new opportunities. They should ask questions and tap resources.

Kuhr said his department is available to help businesses find ways to operate while still protecting public health.