A Guide to Safely Resuming Service of Process
Service of process businesses across the nation have handled the COVID-19 pandemic in vastly different ways. Some decided to temporarily shutter their businesses, while others pressed on while taking the necessary safety precautions. But now that there’s talk of the stay-at-home orders coming to an end, your process serving business should be experiencing another shift. Some suspect the industry might experience a boom as litigation ramps up. Whether you believe this will occur or not, now is the time to prepare your business to reopen safely and efficiently.
A big portion of your plan to reopen should include safety. In order to preserve the health of both servers and the defendants they’re serving, put policies in place such as wearing a mask and avoiding direct contact. Many companies like Sayler Legal Service, ASubpoena, HSPS Legal Services, and ABC Legal have changed their service policies to address COVID-19. Torri’s Legal Services has posted their statement via a pop-up on their website. According to CALSPro, some companies are even putting a “task force” in place to keep their staff and clients healthy. As you return to work, set up a firm and clear policy for you and your employees. Here are some suggested guidelines being implemented by other process serving businesses.
As industries and businesses start to re-open, business owners and operators need to understand that it is vitally important to be acutely aware of, and to be in compliance with, COVID-19 rules, regulations, and guidelines.” - Robert C. Porambo, CALSPro President
Equipment and supplies
You will need a face mask that meets CDC recommendations and is sourced outside of medical supply chains so as to not impact healthcare workers. Keep in mind that some servers are choosing not to use a mask in order to not intimidate the defendant. If you choose not to wear a mask, be vigilant about keeping distance between you and others. If you do wear a mask, remember to still smile as it will show in your eyes.
You will also need a supply of disposable gloves. Put on the gloves as you leave your vehicle and remove them as soon as you return to your vehicle without touching anything inside. Dispose of the used gloves properly and without touching the outside of the gloves.
3. Hand sanitizer
If you don’t wear gloves, make doubly sure you have hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer that you use should contain at least 60% alcohol in order to be effective. Keep in mind that soap and water are still more effective at removing most kinds of germs, but hand sanitizer can still quickly reduce the number of germs.
4. Sealable document sleeves
Use sealable postal grade plastic document sleeves to keep the documents you are serving clean. See more information about using these sleeves in the “Sanitize your Documents” section below.
5. Disinfectant wipes
For cleaning surfaces, whether it’s your car, your desk, or other equipment, use disinfectant wipes. This includes your phone which you are likely constantly touching. Make sure to follow the instructions on the label as some may tell you to keep the surface wet for a certain amount of time.
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Use the equipment correctly
It’s not just a matter of putting on gloves and forgetting about them. Learn the proper technique so that you can avoid transferring germs. Also, keep in mind the correct way of using a mask such as not touching the part that covers your nose and mouth, removing it via the ear straps, and washing it regularly.
Policies in the office
Sanitize your documents
Minimize the risk to your recipient by following sanitation guidelines for all service documents. First, print in a controlled environment where those interacting with the documents are wearing gloves and facemasks. After printing, seal the documents in plastic coverings and leave them for a minimum of 24 hours to reduce the viability of viral matter trapped within the sealed coverings.
Set up office policies
Though you may be minimizing the use of your physical office, it’s important to have policies in place to keep the space as clean and disease-free as possible.
Torri Schaffer, owner of Torri’s Legal Services, is implementing a variety of different changes to her office. One of these changes is limiting the number of people going in and out of the space. She says, “We are now keeping our doors locked with signs about social distancing and letting servers know that they must wear a mask if they want to come into the office.” Part of this is taking papers and affidavits from her servers via a box outside the front door previously used for papers received after hours.
Provide protective equipment
Another change to Torri’s office is the introduction of a station with masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. She says, “If anyone needs a mask they are more than welcome to take a few for their safety.” She is even waiting for a thermal thermometer in order to take the temperature of anyone who enters the office.
Screen who enters
As far as you are able, ensure that whoever you allow into your office is healthy. If someone is showing symptoms, send them home immediately. If you’re concerned, take the temperatures of whoever enters. As CALSPro suggested, if you’re going to test one person, test everyone including leadership. Also, do not discuss or document the results as this may be a privacy violation.
Procedures in the field
Keep your distance
Sometimes, calling the defendant ahead of time can calm any fears or make for a safer meeting. Make sure they know you respect their health and safety. When serving, put on all necessary protective equipment, knock on the door, drop the documents, and retreat a minimum of eight feet from the door or as much as space allows. Confirm the identity of the defendant from this distance. Once confirmed, identify the papers as legal documents and remain where you are until you can visually confirm that the documents have been retrieved.
Since this method of serving differs from the usual, make sure to document everything you do in detail to avoid confusion or doubt later on. As HSPS Legal Services states, “Your documentation will determine the validity of the serve. If you confirmed they were present at that time, then you should be fine with the courts and state code.”
HSPS Legal Services also advises against asking the defendant to sign for the papers as this leads to close contact. They suggest, “If they won’t open the door, talk to them through the door and affirm their identity and confirm you have the correct person (or a valid person to substitute serve). Ask them if they can go to the window so you can get a visual confirmation (for description purposes). Then, lay the papers by the door and leave.”
Don’t serve sick
If you feel sick, go home immediately. Even if you don’t have COVID-19, you could weaken the immune system of someone who is at risk.
Prepare for increased service
Having a plan of action for when business resumes will benefit your business both in giving it a firm foundation for all future jobs and for streamlining your processes if business increases significantly post-pandemic. Your plan will look different based on your company’s specific needs, so take the time to brainstorm what tools and tricks will serve you best. Even if you don’t think the influx will happen, you can still take these steps to improve your business and processes.
Invest in software
Using case management software like ServeManager can save you significant time and money by streamlining every job and enabling swift collaboration with clients and servers. If you haven’t worked with software before, now is a great time to train yourself and your servers.
Automate as much as possible
Take the time to re-evaluate how you’re spending your time. Applications that work along with your software can free up your time so you can focus on other things. For example, you can automate a process that sends an email every time you complete a serve or stores someone’s information when they fill out the contact form on your site.
Cross-train your employees
Make your workforce as versatile as possible. If you train your employees with additional skills, you can strengthen your team, create redundancies, and ensure stability. This way, if one employee becomes unavailable, it won’t interrupt your entire workflow.
Keep your name top of mind even though your business may not be currently operational. Send emails, use social media, even host webinars all to show potential clients you’re still in the game. Doing this will ensure that you’re the first one clients think of when they return to serving papers. You can also accomplish this by volunteering your time and resources to COVID-19 relief. For example, ABC Legal created “Process Server Safety Kits” to send to their servers across the country. And Bosco Legal Services dedicated their staff and office space to making masks for donation.
Picture by Bosco Legal Services
Nothing aids productivity quite like an organized space. Clear out and declutter your office so you can move around easily and have an area where you can focus. Also, clean out your computers so that they aren’t bogged down with extra files or programs they don’t need. Torri Schaffer did this with her own office. She says, “We have cleaned our office from top to bottom and have gotten rid of things that are 15 years old that we have kept for no reason. Under normal times we don’t have the time to clean out old things.”
You never know when you will need to adjust your business in order to take on more clients. Save up money now for resources you may need as your client-base grows. This is also the time to build a relationship with your bank. Working with smaller local banks or credit unions likely affords more flexibility and opportunity for loans and access to Federal programs.
At some point, health officials will contain coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean your vigilance should end. As we learned, crisis management plans shouldn’t end just because the crisis is over. Executives and managers of teams should see this as an opportunity to create, or refine, more comprehensive work-from-home policies.” - CALSPro Blog