COVID-19: How to Create, Communicate, and Enforce Pandemic Policies


I want to start this article with a warning you probably aren’t hearing from many industry leaders: there is no 100% safe way for you to work right now and there won’t be until we have a vaccine and/or reliable treatment options. Every close interaction you have with another person—whether it be a client or coworker—introduces the possibility of infection.

Our rights, freedoms, and political/personal agendas have no bearing on that fact.

Promising vaccine candidates are currently being tested, so we have hope that we will eventually return to normal. In the meantime, be aware that you cannot control the behaviors of others. Your policies can help teach customers how to act in your salon, but they won’t stop ignorant, defiant people who are hell-bent on endangering others from violating them. Regardless of the policies you write and the precautions you take, you will be putting yourself at risk daily.

In this article, we aren’t going to talk about which measures you can take to protect yourself and your clients. (I already talked about that a bit here, and I’m going to leave it up to you to decide what works for your salon and your specific situation.) Today, I’m walkink you through the process of creating, communicating, and enforcing your policies.

How to Create COVID-19 Policies

Start with your state requirements. At a bare minimum, you are required to comply with your state’s social distancing guidelines, whether you like it and agree with it, or not.

Take whatever additional measures you believe are best to protect public health, even if they go beyond what the state requires. If you feel your state is not taking sufficient measures to protect you or your customers, you’re allowed to design your own.

You are a business owner. So long as you are complying with state requirements, the government has no right to interfere in your operations.

For instance, if you decide to eliminate high-risk services (like facials, waxing, and lashing) until further notice, no state or federal authority can force you to reverse that decision.

Write the first draft of these policies alone, using the knowledge we currently have about how the virus spreads and how best to prevent infection in the workplace. You can run them by others if you’d like later, but ignore opinions that run counter to those facts.

Opinions based on feelings and theories with no basis in fact aren’t valid in the midst of a global pandemic.

If people don’t like or approve of your measures, too bad for them. A loud, obnoxious minority shouldn’t deter you from doing what you feel is necessary to protect yourself, your business, your family, and your community. In this respect, the “it’s a free country” argument works both ways. You’re free to take whatever precautions you feel are necessary. They’re free to keep their happy asses out of your salon if they disagree with them.

Until the day comes when we stop discovering new things about the virus, we should operate on the assumption that we aren’t as knowledgeable as we believe ourselves to be, and design our protocols and policies accordingly.

Consider enforcement. Whenever we write policies of any kind, we have to think about how we’ll enforce those policies effectively and consistently. For every policy you decide to introduce, make a detailed, step-by-step enforcement plan and run it by your friends, family, and colleagues. Outside opinions are important, as they may point out flaws in your enforcement plan that you hadn’t considered. (Just remind those you ask for feedback that their opinions should be limited to the feasibility of the enforcement plan only, not their opinions on the measures you’re taking or your approach to creating a safe working environment.)

The person bearing the risk also bears the responsibility. If they can’t be listed as a co-defendant in your salon’s legal proceedings, their opinions on your tactics don’t matter.

How to Communicate Your COVID-19 Policies

Once you have your policies written and your enforcement plan prepared, you have to figure out how to phrase them and where/how to present them.

Make the information visible everywhere. Your website should have a noticeable alert, as should you online booking system. Any emails that come from the salon should include the information for as long as the policies stand. Post notices inside the salon as well, starting with the front door.

Let clients know what to expect form your business, and how to behave while visiting.

The more places you share the information, the better. (I personally enjoy Todrick Hall’s method, but few of us can ever hope to be that fabulous.)

Be clear and concise. This isn’t the time to use nice words or flowery customer service verbiage. Your language should be sharp and effective at communicating your point.

Bad Policy: “We politely request that all customers wear face masks in accordance with CDC guidelines.”
Good Policy: “All customers and staff are required to wear face masks at all times.”

Bad Policy: “Please wait in your vehicle until your appointment time. We ask that you not bring friends or children with you.”
Good Policy: “Clients will not be permitted into the salon until their scheduled appointment time. No guests or children will be allowed inside.”

Bad Policy: “We would appreciate your cooperation with pre-entry temperature checks and handwashing upon arrival.”
Good Policy: “Every person seeking to enter the salon will be subject to a temperature scan upon arrival and will be required to wash their hands.”

Include enforcement measures. In any situation where policies are introduced, we try to also include enforcement information where it makes sense to do so. (For instance, with regards to late-cancellations and no-shows.) During the pandemic, it will be essential that you include enforcement information for each and every policy.

To illustrate this, let’s use our prior policy examples:

  • “All customers and staff are required to wear face masks at all times. Refusal to cooperate will result in immediate dismissal.”
  • “Clients will not be permitted into the salon until their scheduled appointment time. No guests or children will be allowed inside. Our doors will remain locked and any request to gain early entry will be denied.”
  • “Every person seeking to enter the salon will be subject to a temperature scan upon arrival and will be required to wash their hands. Those who refuse will be turned away.”

Just as clients should understand your expectations of them, so too should we communicate what they can expect from us.

Whatever you say, don’t say, “Sorry.”

You might feel compelled to “apologize for the inconvenience” when you communicate your policies. Do not.

Protecting your community during a pandemic isn’t an “inconvenience.” It’s a necessity.

We don’t say sorry for things we aren’t truly sorry for. You can thank people for their cooperation, but don’t apologize for doing what you believe to be right during this unprecedented time. Furthermore, don’t give people the impression that they’re entitled to an apology for being expected to show consideration for others by complying with common-sense infection control procedures.

How to Enforce Your COVID-19 Policies

Hopefully, you won’t have a problem with compliance at all, but you need to have a plan, just in case you do. With a subset of people making social distancing compliance A Thing™, there’s a strong possibility you’ll encounter some kind of resistance.

Be cautious about making exceptions. Even pre-COVID, I didn’t recommend making policy exceptions of any kind, and I’m inclined to strongly discourage them during the pandemic. As we’ve seen, some people aren’t above exploiting the ADA to avoid compliance. The stakes during the pandemic are much higher than they’d be in normal circumstances, where an exception to a policy (for instance, waiving a late-cancellation fee) wouldn’t impact anything aside from the salon’s revenue. An exception to a safety protocol at this time has the potential to kill someone.

Think about which situations and people would warrant an exception and plan for how you’ll accommodate them.

If you plan to make exceptions, establish the criteria in advance. For instance, you may offer to exempt eligible clients with actual, verifiable breathing difficulties from wearing a face mask during their service by serving them at their home rather than in the salon (if that’s permissible in your state). Clients who don’t have reliable child care to speak of might be given an exception to the “no guests” rule if one of your employees is available to supervise the child outside or in an area of the salon the public doesn’t have access to, like a break room or office. (Before you scoff at that idea, remember that many parents–especially single parents–are likely desperate for a short break.)

Any exceptions you grant should go to those who meet your criteria and deserve to be exempted, not whomever complains the loudest.

Focus on your responsibility to your community as a guardian of public health. As an industry, we have always been responsible for ensuring the safety of others. Our business and professional licenses are contingent upon our willingness and ability to adhere to disinfection and sanitation protocols.

If you wouldn’t allow a client to bleed all over you, your customers, or your professionals on the off-chance that you may contract a bloodborne illness, why would you allow them to breathe in their faces during a pandemic?

When enforcing your policies or answering questions about them, draw focus to your role as a responsible licensee. You owe it to your community and your team to do whatever you believe is necessary to prevent the contagion from spreading. This is an objectively intelligent position to take and anyone who argues otherwise doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously in any respect, especially if they aren’t legally invested in your business.

If you alone retain the risks of business ownership, you retain the right to make and enforce your own rules.

Don’t allow anyone to politicize the issue. Everyone in this country has the fundamental, unalienable right to life. As Americans–and as a species, really–we agree that we have a profound responsibility to protect the lives of others as well, to the best of our abilities. You can try to argue this in the comments, but before you do, remember that involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide are considered criminal acts for a reason and that premature deaths (particularly those that were avoidable) are generally considered “tragedies”…also for good reason.

People have the right to live how they please. They do not have the right to force others to accept the same risks they’re comfortable taking. Customers who are willing to put themselves and others at risk will likely have a variety of non-compliant salons to choose from, just as before. Remind them of that fact as you show them out of yours.

COVID-19 doesn’t care about your ideology, and loud opinions aren’t an adequate defense against a viral pathogen.

Equating a business owner’s protective measures during a pandemic with a political stance is outright ignorant. Issues of public health (and frankly, potential liability) have absolutely nothing to do with what we personally believe the government’s role to be. Anyone who treats your cautionary procedures as a political issue should be immediately corrected and redirected to another topic of conversation. Your measures are about keeping the public safe and keeping your salon’s names out of the headlines. They aren’t political and they aren’t up for debate. That’s all there is to it.

As we navigate this weird new normal, remember that this will likely be a temporary period of our lives. There will be an “after,” and your behaviors and actions will be remembered. You get to decide whether you (and your business) are known for having exacerbated and extended the crisis or having done the utmost to curb it. I plan to be among those salon owners remembered for our integrity and dedication to protecting others, regardless of the financial cost or potential backlash from those who would prefer to see us all ignore the data and return to business as usual, with no consideration paid to the immunocompromised people who have to try to survive until we come through the other side of this, or the lives that will be needlessly ended prematurely.

I also plan to do everything I possibly can to avoid landing in court, attempting to defend my business against accusations that an outbreak originated in my facility. Our personal feelings about the media, the government, the WHO, and the CDC aside, I think we can all agree that from a liability perspective, extreme caution during this time is more than warranted. Do what you have to do, and don’t apologize.

A Note for the People Pleasers

So many of the professionals I know and work with are relentless people pleasers. They live to serve, which is why they’re such beloved and successful professionals and salon owners. However, these people are also the most likely to be run over repeatedly by both clients and colleagues.

Those of you who have a hard time asserting yourselves and saying no–now is the time to break that habit. Your professionals and customers need strong, decisive leadership right now.

You’ve been forced into an unenviable position, especially if you’re in a state that has lax (or nonexistent) social distancing orders. It falls to you to ensure your facility doesn’t become part of the problem, and that will likely require you to be more firm and insistent than is natural for your personality. Unfortunately, the only way to become comfortable asserting yourself is to practice by doing it repeatedly. It will get easier every time, I promise.

If you need a pep talk or to decompress after an incident, email me. Five kids ago, I was just like you. Growing out of that People Pleaser phase was the best thing for my business (and my sanity). I’m wiling to be your cheerleader, if you need one.

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Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of the book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.


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