April 29, 2020
By John F. Connolly
With Governor Kemp’s April 23, 2020 Executive Order, Georgia enters the first phase of its business reopening following the COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place Orders. As they consider the steps for reopening, businesses need to consider the various health and safety guidelines from the White House, CDC, OSHA, and state and local governments. With proper planning, care and enforcement, a business can reopen with confidence and look forward to being in the vanguard of getting Georgia back to work.
These re-openings, however, come with restrictions. In an Executive Order dated April 23, 2020, Governor Kemp issued basic measures to mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19 among workers. These include:
The Order also includes industry-specific guidelines. For example, measures for restaurant dining rooms include:
Additional requirements exist for restaurants. The full text of the Governor’s Order with all the relevant regulations for all businesses may be found here: https://gov.georgia.gov/document/2020-executive-order/04232001/download.
In addition to these regulations, there are other challenges that these and other businesses will face as they reopen. One may be convincing workers to return. With safety suddenly a high-value commodity, companies will need to clearly communicate to their employees what steps they have taken to reopen safely. Employers should consider providing hand sanitizer, and per the Governor’s guidelines, require employees to self-monitor their temperatures, enforce social distancing, and mandate hand washing, cleaning, and sanitizing. Employers should also consider whether to provide gloves and face coverings, and even need to consider whether to implement disciplinary action if policies are not followed. The CDC’s guidance for employers may be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html.
Employers should also be prepared to address the concerns of employees who are at high-risk, especially as identified by the CDC. These include individuals 65 years and older, and individuals of all ages with underlying medical conditions, including but not limited to, chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, and the immunocompromised. Employers may need to reconsider time off policies, including sick leave, and make adjustments, especially for high-risk employees. A full listing of those at higher risk may be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html.Businesses must also consider the possibility that an employee will test positive for COVID-19. In such an eventuality, the employee should not be named, due to HIPAA and other privacy laws. Individuals who may have been in contact with the sick worker within 14 days will need to be contacted and restricted accordingly.
Unfortunately, companies will also need to consider the potential for litigation. Already, there are rumblings about lawsuits from people who have contracted COVID-19 against entities that allegedly exposed them to unreasonable risk by failing to meet health and safety guidelines to keep their employees and customers safe.
This reality only reinforces the need to know, understand, and implement the regulations and guidelines issued by the White House, CDC, OSHA, and state and local governments. This is not a time to wing it and hope for the best. With planning, care, and enforcement, however, a business can reopen with confidence and look forward to being in the vanguard of getting Georgia back to work.
John Connolly is a partner at Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP and assists individuals and companies in business, real estate, and complex litigation. He graduated from Georgia State University School of Law and has practiced in metro Atlanta for his entire career.