By Sherry Smith
Sherry Smith is director of business development for data and consulting company The Edge Retail Academy. She can be reached at
The first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States was reported on March 5.

Although we are less than 30 days into this pandemic in the U.S., the numbers are staggering—more than  120,000 confirmed cases and over 2,000 deaths as of Monday, the World Health Organization reports.

We now lead the world in total number of cases.

We’ve never been here before, battling a nationwide pandemic and facing so much uncertainty.

We know we will come out of this; we just aren’t sure when or what that might look like, as many of us will be adjusting to a new normal.

In the meantime, though, it is critical—and I know you’ve heard me say this before and I make no apologies for saying it again—but we must focus on what we can control.

So in this column, I’d like to address the multiple stimulus packages and relief programs available to all of us as it relates to our employees.

RELATED CONTENT: 5 Things Retailers Should Know About the Stimulus Bill

Last week, Congress passed a third stimulus package, which has allocated an additional $350 billion to small businesses and $150 billion for state and local stimulus finds. There are also provisions in the bill that will temporarily allow small businesses to claim deductions using today’s losses against past profits to claim quick refunds for cash infusions.

There’s no doubt that it can be overwhelming trying to understand and decode all the information relevant to your business in the $2 trillion stimulus package, otherwise known as the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act.   

Therefore, you must rely on your corporate attorney, certified public account and, if you utilize one, your payroll company.

Remember their roles require a complete understanding of the legalities and the nuances associated with all the stimulus packages. This is precisely what you pay them for.

In fact, it’s so easy to misinterpret and/or misunderstand how some of these programs will work that I urge you to avoid taking any action until you have spoken to your experts.

You simply can’t afford costly missteps.

Start by assessing your current financial situation. What does that look like?

Define your objective, which now for many of our retailers is about sustainability. What does that look like? Am I able to be self-reliant, or do I need assistance? Perhaps it’s a combination of both, depending on how long little to no revenue will be coming in.

Then set aside 15 to 30 minutes to create a list of questions for your team of experts.

It’s important to understand all your options when it comes to your employees and the potential legal ramifications.

A sample list of questions might look like this.

1) Am I obligated to give my employees paid leave?
   1a) Does this apply to all businesses, or are small businesses exempt?
2) If I offer paid leave to my current employees, will I be fully reimbursed?
3) Is it smart to take out a loan, given the low interest rates, in order to keep my employees on paid leave?
4) What advantages and disadvantages are there between paid leave versus layoffs?
5) If I am reimbursed, how quickly will those funds come through?
6) What form will the reimbursement take, cash or tax credits?
7) If part of the reimbursement is via tax credits, when would those be realized?
8) If I lay off my employees, am I obligated to pay them their PTO (personal time off) time first?
9) If I take out a loan to use for payroll expenses, is loan forgiveness a guarantee?
10) If not, what options do I have?
11) Is there anything I have overlooked?

Let me give an example of why it’s so important to do this exercise.

This excerpt is from a CNBC article published last Thursday and, yes, quickly updated the next day.

“Under the CARES Act, the loans can be for as much as 2.5 times payroll or $10 million, whichever is less. Payments can be deferred by up to a year, and businesses will be able to apply for forgiveness of the loan (or a portion of it) based on the amount used during the eight weeks following loan approval. Any amount not forgiven would have a maximum interest rate of 4 percent.”

I want to use this example because I’ve had many retailers debate keeping their employees on paid leave vs. unpaid leave because some are convinced they will be fully reimbursed.

Well, that’s simply not guaranteed. Look at the language above. While your payments could be deferred for up to a year, which would be very helpful, you will still have to apply for a forgiveness of the loan.

And, all or part of it may be forgiven, while the unforgiven portion would have a maximum interest rate of 4 percent.

One can easily see how this one paragraph could be subject to multiple interpretations.

The potential costly part to the retailer is that many of them would have to take a loan in order to grant paid leave. That’s a loan that might not be fully forgiven, which means you’ve taken on additional debt that you’ll have to pay back.

There is another article, also published last Thursday, from The New York Times that states payroll expenses would be fully covered, but there is a timeline in which you have to use those funds.

The bottom line is: There simply is no one right answer for all retailers, which is why you want to consider all the facts and ultimately make the decision that is in the best interest of your business.

Given how rapidly things are changing, you can understand why it’s imperative to rely on your team of experts. Utilize them! They will ensure you understand the impact of your chosen course of action.

At the end of the day, we all want to be standing on the other side of this pandemic.

Be well and stay healthy!

Sherry Smith is director of business development for data and consulting company The Edge Retail Academy. In her role, Smith works with wholesalers, brands and retail stores on business mentoring, and data analysis and aggregation. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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