Although the “Shelter in Place” order for those who are 65 years of age or older, living in a nursing home, severely obese, or have compromised immune system, has been extended until June 12, 2020, many businesses are now permitted to open their doors to patrons, provided that such businesses implement measures to mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19 among its patrons and workforce.
Among other things, and subject to mandated mitigation measures, restaurants and dining rooms are permitted to resume providing dine-in services; businesses that are not Critical Infrastructure are permitted to continue in-person operations; gyms and fitness centers are permitted to allow customers; body art studios, massage therapists, and tanning facilities are permitted to provide services by appointment; and bowling alleys, indoor movie theaters and cinemas are permitted open.
Before any business opens its doors to customers or patrons, it is critical that the business and its work force has a full understanding of the measures it must take to mitigate exposure and spread of the virus.
Under Georgia law, businesses may find themselves liable to members of the public if those businesses fail to exercise ordinary care in keeping their premises safe. The coronavirus pandemic raises questions as to what actions are required by businesses to protect their customers, and what degree of exposure businesses face in the event a customer claims to have contracted the virus upon the business premises. In this constantly evolving health crisis, it can be expected that lawsuits will be initiated against businesses for failing to implement procedural safeguards to protect customers from contracting the virus.
Businesses should take reasonably practical precautions to limit their customers’ exposure to the virus. These precautions include mitigation strategies published by the CDC and Governor Kemp. Specific industries, including restaurants and barber shops, are subject to additional safety requirements. As Georgia businesses reopen their doors to customers, businesses should be proactive in educating their employees and customers about proper hygiene and how to reduce spread. Most importantly, these businesses should pay close attention to future orders.
Businesses must also be careful as their employees return to the workplace from furloughs or quarantines. On the one hand, employees who show signs of illness, particularly fever, cough, or shortness of breath, should not be permitted to return to work. On the other hand, issues of privacy and the requirements of federal law limit an employer’s right to ask an employee about his or her health.
As we continue to monitor the pandemic, Hull Barrett, PC attorneys are working to stay current on developments and counsel clients through various legal and business issues that may arise.
If you have any questions about how your business can mitigate liability during this reopening phase, please contact Tom Cathey (firstname.lastname@example.org), Ben Dinges (email@example.com), or any other litigation attorney at Hull Barrett, PC (706-722-4481).