In a past column, I discussed the retailer's best approach in protecting their employees, customers, and themselves. A retailer's obligations change frequently and this article is focused on the recently released COVID-19 Executive Order from Governor Wolf.
At a high-level, the Governor announced several changes to prior Orders based upon a significant increase in COVID-19 cases across Pennsylvania. The new Order includes a stay at home advisory, a reduction in permitted guests at indoor and outdoor venues, and specific restrictions relative to the sale of alcohol by bars and restaurants. While some of these recently announced guidelines are described as "advisory", the Governor's new Order relative to retail establishments should be viewed as a law. From the perspective of a convenience store, the most important aspects of the order revolve around masking, signage, and cleaning. Put in simple terms, the Order is directed at protecting employees and customers.
According to the Governor's Order for "Mitigation, Enforcement, and Immunity Protections," effective November 27, 2020, businesses serving the public in a physical space, including inside or outside of the building have been ordered to take specific actions. These include, but are not limited to:
It is important to note that the Governor continues to operate pursuant to his emergency powers. The preamble to the Order makes specific reference to the increase in COVID-19 cases and the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is seen as a National Emergency. As a result, the November 27, 2020 Order goes beyond prior Orders and offers visibility to how the state plans to enforce the Order. Specifically, retailers can expect both licensing bodies and police forces to monitor and assure compliance.
Considering the rapidly changing landscape relative to COVID-19 cases, and the Governor's new Executive Order, retailers should review their COVID-19 protocols and remind their staff of their obligations under the law and as employees. Compliance with state regulations is the foundation for any defense against COVID-19 claims against a retailer. Regardless of one's personal feelings relative to this Order, it is the "law of the land." More importantly, it represents the new standard for protecting a business against both private and public legal action.