COVID-19 Stay at Home Rules – How Do I Know if my Business is “Essential” and How Do I Prove It?

A growing number of states and local municipalities have issued “stay at home” orders to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.  The result is a hodge-podge of local and state directives, and experts predict soon over half of all Americans will be under instructions to stay home.

By now most people know that “essential businesses” like food suppliers and healthcare operations are permitted to stay open.  Similarly, places like gyms, hair salons, and schools are in most cases shut down. But what do the new rules mean for the countless number of businesses that don’t fall neatly into any of these categories?  The confusing overlap of state and local regulations have made it nearly impossible for many businesses to tell whether they are permitted to keep working or not.

In recent days, several of our clients have asked us the same questions: Are we allowed to stay open and operate as normal?  Can our employees travel to and from work without getting into trouble? Are we an “essential business”? How do we decipher these confusing rules?  And, perhaps most importantly, how do we prove that we are operating within the law if we or one of our employees is stopped and questioned?

We recommend taking the following steps:

  1. Locate relevant state and local rules that apply to each location where your business has a physical presence.
  2. Determine whether your business clearly qualifies as an “essential business” or falls within one of the exceptions to the stay at home order.
  3. If it is unquestionable that you are permitted to keep your business open, provide each of your employees with a letter on company letterhead explaining that they are permitted to travel to and from work (and, if applicable, for work-related business) and cite the relevant sections of the state and local regulations that support this determination.  Contact us if you need help with your company’s travel authorization letter.
  4. If you are unsure about whether you qualify as an essential business or whether any of the exceptions might apply to you, contact us.  We have an established workflow in place to quickly determine (a) what rules apply to your business, and (b) whether you and your team can leave home for work-related purposes.  We can provide you with a legal opinion letter that you and your employees can keep with you at all times in case you are ever stopped and questioned.

If you do keep your physical business location up and running, we recommend that you review and adopt the recommendations on this page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html.  Also, the New York Times is maintaining a list of states that have passed statewide and local stay-at-home orders here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-stay-at-home-order.html (free account required to view).

Our team at CLARK.LAW stands ready to help your business navigate the latest state and local COVID-19 related regulations.  If you would like for us to determine your business’s status under current regulations, provide you with a legal opinion letter that you and your employees can use if you’re questioned, or if you need help with the travel authorization letter, please contact us today.