State governments have responded swiftly to the public health emergency and threat posed by COVID-19. The situation is evolving daily and remains fluid and uncertain for employers, employees, and consumers. The following is a brief summary of recent executive orders regarding business operations, gatherings, and commerce.
On March 23, Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order ordering nonessential businesses and organizations to close their physical workspaces and facilities to customers, workers and the public.
“Essential” businesses span various sectors including healthcare, food and agriculture, first responders and public works, utilities (energy, telecom, gas, water), transportation, “critical manufacturing” (utility and necessities industries), and financial services. Businesses that are not identified as “essential” in state guidance can petition for designation.
Governor Baker also revoked a prior emergency order that prohibited assembly of more than 25 people, reducing the prohibition to gatherings of 10 or more.
On March 18, Maine Governor Janet Mills issued an Executive Order closing restaurants and bars to customers for 14 days until midnight, March 31, 2020. The order allows those businesses to continue operations to provide take out or delivery. Liquor and beverage regulations have been relaxed to permit bars and restaurants to deliver packaged beverages for sale.
Gatherings of 10 or more people have been banned.
Many businesses have been encouraged but are not legally required to close. These include “non-essential public-facing businesses,” such as gyms, hair salons, theatres, casinos, and shopping malls. The Governor clarified that this encouragement does not apply to businesses that provide essential services including, but not limited to: food processing, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, construction, trash collection, grocery and household goods (including convenience stores), home repair and hardware, auto repair, pharmacy and other medical facilities, biomedical and health care, child care, post offices and shipping outlets, insurance, banks, gas stations, laundromats, veterinary clinics and animal feed and supply stores, shipping stores, public transportation, and hotel and commercial lodging.
The governor has urged businesses that remain open to implement social distancing practices and to encourage employees to work from home, to the extent practicable.
Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has issued over a dozen emergency orders on a range of areas, including employment benefits for workers, prohibitions on utilities disconnecting services for nonpayment, and staying all foreclosure and eviction matters pending the state of emergency.
Until April 6, gatherings of more than 50 attendees are prohibited and all establishments with onsite beverage consumption are shuttered. A subsequent emergency order authorizes temporary take out and delivery of beer and wine for businesses affected by the shutdown.
As of this writing, the Governor had yet to issue an order restricting businesses other than restaurants and bars.
It is anticipated that federal, state, and local governments will continue to modify emergency orders and regulations as the situation unfolds. This article will be updated. The fast-moving legal requirements on businesses and employers will present challenges in the weeks ahead, as we continue to grapple with changes to our lives and routines.
This article is for informational and educational purposes and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult legal counsel to assess the legal issues specific to your case or matter. The attorneys at Libby, O’Brien, Kingsley & Champion have extensive experience in employment and regulatory law.