After over two months of closed businesses, furloughed or terminated employees, PPP loans and masked and quarantined residents, our economy is going through various phases of reopening and re-engaging. With both relief and reluctance, shopkeepers, mall operators, small business owners, places of worship, and soon salons and gyms, as well as many other varieties of commerce are reengaging in a post-pandemic world. And as the economy reopens, there are so many different questions, concerns and worries that face business owners and operators, as well as their employees and customers.
It is really all about employers and business owners providing a safe workplace and managing risk for employees and customers; yet, it is also all about providing convenience and a good customer experience, in a safe environment, in order to boost customer confidence and encourage them to return physically to your business.
Navigating this reopening can be daunting and even overwhelming, while at the same time providing some sense of relief and new purpose. There is no end to the amount and sources of recommendations for how to safely open and operate various businesses while protecting employees and customers from infection with COVID-19.
For your convenience, some of these sources, which provide industry-by-industry guidelines, include:
State of California, Coronavirus Guidance and Guidelines: https://covid19.ca.gov/roadmap-counties/#
Cal/OSHA Guidelines: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/Health-Care-General-Industry.html
At each of these sites, there are guidelines, recommendations and other tools available to business operators to reopen and operate safely under the current restrictions and conditions. One important consideration: these are not statutory or regulatory mandates or requirements. Instead, they are still given some teeth by virtue of the public health orders in place in the State, each County and sometimes in a City. You should use these resources to check on the status of the orders which may affect your business.
Recognize, however, that while these various guidelines may not have the force of law, such as statutes or regulations, the law that pre-existed the stay-at-home orders may still require certain actions be taken or not taken in a business setting, particularly given the knowledge we now possess of the risks of coronavirus infection and its consequences. Thus, employers are still responsible for providing a safe workplace and minimizing or managing risk to employees. Tort law still requires business operators to meet their duty of due care to their customers who do business in or with their establishment.
There is a balancing of interests that will be required, between protecting employees and customers from needless infection, although we cannot possibly expect to avoid all incidents of exposure, while at the same time, safely appealing to customers to draw them back into the business. In this new era, this requires efforts at making customers feel safe and comfortable in returning to stores, offices and restaurants, while also maintaining a sense of normalcy, making it appealing to engage in commerce once again.
Through it all, the attorneys and staff of Reid & Hellyer, APC, stand ready to assist you in navigating the rules, regulations and guidelines offered to minimize risk and maximize business opportunities in these interesting times.
Donald W. Hitzeman is a Senior Attorney at Reid & Hellyer, APC, practicing business transactional and estate planning law.