The past seven days have been a whirlwind of COVID-19 news, guidelines and government orders; it’s no wonder many of you have questions regarding how they all relate to your business operations. Here, we’ve compiled your three most commonly asked questions to give you the best answers we can at this time, while understanding that circumstances change daily, if not hourly.
Your top 3 questions about how COVID-19 affects your business operations
#1 How can we tell the difference between steps that are recommended and those that are mandatory, and what happens if I don’t comply?
This is a good question, especially when we have so many of each floating around. Your best bet is to pay attention to the language that’s used. “Recommendations” and “guidelines” may be considered suggestions. But the recommendations and guidelines we’re seeing are pretty wise, and adhering to them would most likely be in the best interest of your customers and employees, not to mention yourself.
“Orders” and “directives,” however, should be considered mandatory. When emergency orders are issued, failure to comply can result in imprisonment and fines. For example, Governor Evers’ most recent Emergency Order #5 incorporates a Wisconsin statute where the penalties are up to 30 days in jail and $500 in fines.
#2 What kind of legal liability will I face if I keep my business open?
The answer can be complicated, and because this situation is unprecedented, we don’t know for sure. What we can tell you is that you may be liable if you remain open when you’ve been ordered to close, and as a proximate result, someone catches the coronavirus. The party would need to prove, however, that they caught the virus because of your negligence.
#3 What is my obligation to my employees, especially since my business has slowed dramatically because of the pandemic.
That will be determined by the Families First Act, which is now making its way through congress. The House of Representatives passed the measure on Saturday, March 14. The Senate will review the bill in the next couple of days and will likely make changes before forwarding it to President Trump for signature. President Trump has express support for the act, so he probably will sign it quickly. As soon as we know the full contents of the final bill, we’ll share it on this blog and post a link to our social media accounts.
UPDATE: President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law late on March 18. You can find highlights here.
By Ellen M. Frantz, employment lawyer at Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For answers to your specific question, call her at 608-784-5678.