Kelly Shulz, Maryland’s commerce secretary, asked businesses to consider getting people back to work on at least a part-time basis by taking advantage of the state’s work-sharing program during a webinar with Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz on Friday.
It’s part of the state’s unemployment program, and it allows people to get back into their jobs even if their employer doesn’t have full-time hours available.
“It’s not a program that has been used frequently in the past,” she said, “but [the business] can bring them back part time and the employee can apply for unemployment the other days that they are not working.”
The program is an alternative to layoffs, and has been on the books in Maryland for 35 years.
As the coronavirus pandemic lingers, many businesses are likely considering making temporary layoffs permanent, but this program could be a solution for a business that needs to reduce its workforce in order to preserve social distancing.
The other benefit, according to the state’s Department of Labor website, is that employees who are engaged in work-sharing are not subject to some of the job-hunting and certification requirements that people who are permanently unemployed are often asked to deal with.
The program also means that employees can keep their skills fresh, even with part-time work, so they can be ready to get back to work full time when the business is ready.
Shulz said her department is motivated to be sure “commerce is safe for everyone” when businesses fully reopen.
Currently she said every part of Maryland is at least in Phase Two, and as some areas move forward, she wants to be sure businesses are making prudent choices about keeping distance between employees and customers, and following established regulations on hand-washing and mask-wearing.
Katz asked Shulz about how the state hopes to be sure businesses don’t get lax with social distancing and mask-wearing requirements. In recent days, a number of businesses in Montgomery County have been cited or shut down for not adhering to reopening guidelines.
The county shut down two Silver Spring businesses at the beginning of the week, restaurants that were not complying with restrictions put in place due to COVID-19. A restaurant in Gaithersburg was also cited and fined $500 due to its employees not wearing masks.
Shulz said the state is working with local business leaders to get the word out that keeping employees and customers safe are significant priorities. There will be some public service announcements in coming weeks, with business people encouraging their peers to work together to keep infections levels low in Maryland.
She said it’s one thing for the government to preach safety, but it may be better for local businesses to hear the advice from their peers.
“It’s to keep Maryland open for business,” Shulz said.
Katz noted that businesses that are closed once will have trouble enticing customers to come back in the future.
“We’ve seen it in Ocean City that people are just too comfortable; then when someone gets sick they’re even more afraid to come back to this business,” Katz said, calling the coronavirus pandemic “the most complex issue I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
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