As the United States (and many parts of the world) experiences a new rise in Covid-19 cases, Maryland Governor Hogan, by Executive Order, and Montgomery County have implemented new restrictive orders, effective November 10th, to strive to flatten the curve. These orders will affect many businesses throughout the state and will likely impact your actions as a business owner and employer, until these restrictions can be relaxed again.
Reduction in Occupancy
One significant change is that the orders reduced the permitted indoor occupancy for many businesses including restaurants, personal services, fitness centers, and bowling allies. Under the Governor’s order, these businesses may only have 50% occupancy. Montgomery County, as permitted by the Governor’s order, has implemented a stricter standard of the lesser of 1 person for every 200 sq. ft. or 25%. Both orders also limit indoor gatherings to 25 people. Our recommendations for adjusting to these requirements are as follows:
- Review the Order. There are differences in the orders based on your type of business and location, so please ensure you review the order for your specific requirements.
- Ensure Compliance. You should consider your premises and determine what additional changes you need to make to comply with the new orders.
- Analyze your Operational and Financial Needs. You should review your operational needs and any additional financial constraints due to these orders. One of the consequences of the reduced occupancy is a reduction in a business’s customers and revenue. This may require additional cuts in employees, either temporarily or permanently.
- Take Thoughtful Action. If furloughs or layoffs are necessary, as we advised at the beginning of this pandemic, it is important to take clear steps to layoff or furlough employees to prevent legal risks, especially claims of unlawful discrimination.
Another significant change is that the Governor has issued a travel advisory for all Marylanders to encourage only essential travel. If you must travel and travel to a state with a COVID-19 test positivity rate above 10% or with a case rate over 20 per 100,000 in the past 7 days, the Governor strongly recommends that you get tested and self-quarantine at home until the test result is received. The recommendations do exempt the District of Columbia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia because employees travel between these states regularly – often daily – for work.
It is important to take steps to ensure the safety of your employees. We recommend the following:
- Limit Employee Work Travel. It is likely that you are already doing this but, as a reminder, employees should only be traveling when absolutely necessary for work.
- Update Screening Checklists for Employees and Customers. All screening checklists should be updated to ask if the Employee or Customer has traveled in the last two weeks and where. You can keep the CDC’s links bookmarked so you can easily reference the current metrics: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_casesper100klast7days or https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#testing_testsperformed. If the state is on the list, then you should require compliance with the Governor’s recommendations.
- Require Compliance of Employees. At the workplace, address violations of your workplace safety and social distancing protocols proactively. As an employer, you cannot prevent an employee from traveling to a state with a high risk. However, you can require them to work remotely at home or be on leave for 14 days and until they receive a negative test.
- Ensure Compliance with Employment Laws. While some employment laws have been relaxed during this time (i.e. temperature checks of employees), it is important to always remember that the usual rules are in place when you are making employment decisions.
As we go through another Covid-19 spike, please remember we are here to support you through this time so that you do not inadvertently expose your business to liability. Please feel free to contact Ginny Cascio Bonifacino at firstname.lastname@example.org or Natasha M. Nazareth at email@example.com to discuss any questions.