Reopening after coronavirus can be tricky. The sudden onset of the COVID-19 coronavirus has already had a devastating impact on businesses of all kinds. But the enforced closures, cancellations, and disruption of supply chains that we have seen so far may only be the first phase of a long disruption.
As many states now begin to relax their restrictions, businesses will face significant problems in managing new risks and liabilities as they reopen after coronavirus. It will be vital to ensure that you have a plan to mitigate these risks as far as possible. And also to make sure that you have in place the appropriate insurance coverages.
What are the Risks for Businesses Re-opening?
Irrespective of any state or federal advice that businesses may now open, all employers have a legal duty to provide their employees with a safe place of work. And in the specific case of COVID-19, this of course implies a duty to take reasonable steps to allow employees to carry out their duties while observing safe social distancing practices.
A similar duty applies in respect of customers and other lawful visitors to your premises – delivery drivers, for example.
So, when reopening after coronavirus, you have a potential liability if any employee, customer, or visitor contracts COVID-19.
Now, it may prove difficult in practice for them to establish that they were infected while on your premises. But this doesn’t mean you won’t still have a stressful and expensive problem on your hands.
When you notify your workers’ compensation and or business liability insurer of these potential claims, the first thing they are likely to do is to refer you to the near-universal exclusion clause in these policies that absolves them from liability for any claims caused by your unlawful acts or omissions.
It may be a moot point whether any failure to act in accordance with government guidelines is in itself unlawful. But insurers will nevertheless want to know what steps you have taken to keep your staff, customers, and visitors safe. And they will want to see written evidence.
In the absence of such evidence, the insurer may seek to avoid your claim. And this also means of course that it will refuse to meet the cost of defending any action.
In this event, however weak the litigant’s case may be, you will nevertheless be on the hook for a large legal expenses bill.
The Least You Need to Do
To avoid such a disaster, you need as a minimum to take the following steps.
Firstly, under no circumstances should you reopen in advance of express government permission to do so. And you should open only in accordance with any guidelines on allowed hours, customer numbers and staffing levels, etc. It’s also crucial that you make your employees aware of all relevant safety guidance provided by federal agencies and state/county authorities.
Depending on the type of business you operate, this guidance may include providing your employees with appropriate personal protection equipment, screening their health by taking temperatures, and asking them to report immediately any COVID-19 symptoms. Suspected cases of infection should be reported at once to local health authorities.
It’s also important that you keep accurate records of all screening measures you adopt, and the cases you report.
Finally, for businesses that open their doors to the public, it’s essential to clearly communicate guidance regarding social distancing at checkouts etc. You also need to monitor compliance and to record any significant breaches.
Reopening After Coronavirus: Talk to Our Expert Team
We’ve tried to give you here a brief account of some of the potential problems that the coronavirus pandemic will pose for reopening after coronavirus.
But the legal and insurance issues involved are complex and will vary significantly for different types of business. So it’s important that you consult with both your legal and insurance advisers – before you re-open – to ensure that you are as well protected as possible.
So if you’d like to learn more about protecting your business against liabilities when reopening after coronavirus, call us today on 805-564-7645 or send us a message here.