Post-COVID Legalities and Liabilities

Procedures, Policies, Precautions, and Protections

By Roy R. Reichold

During this pandemic, we have advised our clients in the hospitality industry multiple ways, with our primary approach being the consistency of direct conversation and consulting.

We realize that each client’s risk profile is unique, whether they represent a hotel, banquet venue, restaurant, or nightclub.  It is imperative to understand each client’s risk profile and use quantitative and qualitative assessment data to evaluate their profile, thus developing effective risk management solutions.

Our client’s primary concern is the safety of their employees and attendees.  How do they recommence and readapt their past operations in a way that protects both parties from transmitting and contracting COVID-19?  The following policies are best practices for employees and attendees that offer an additional layer of legal protection during these uncertain times.

You Reopened… So What’s The Plan?

According to the CDC, venues must only consider reopening upon devising a thorough, safe reopening plan that is compliant with the rest of the guidelines established by the CDC, OSHA, and state and local authorities.

Careful and strategic planning for reopening is vital, and no amount of planning can completely eliminate the risk of legal liability.

Initial Policy Considerations

Plastic gloves and hairnets were, initially, the only PPE that employees in the hospitality industry were required to wear for health, sanitation, and the avoidance of cross-contamination.  Now, masks, face shields, gloves, no-touch thermometers, and lots of plexiglass are the new norm for employees and, possibly, attendees.

Venues must ensure all recommended health and safety policies and procedures are implemented for all in attendance.  This means mandatory PPE for employees, and guests are encouraged to intensify cleaning and sanitation procedures and frequency.  And, for all, this means practicing social distancing.

Policies Are Ever-Changing

Policies and procedures are constantly being modified by various levels of authority, and it is important to communicate any new changes with employees.  Build and maintain an effective communication system, and when in doubt, over-communicate.

COVID-19 Protection Fees

Some venues are charging a COVID-19 fee that covers the additional cost of masks and gloves for employees and guests and intensified cleaning procedures.  Consider whether this is a fee you want to incorporate into attendee pre-registration.

Employees Testing Positive

Another significant factor at play is the risk COVID-19 poses for your brand and reputation if one or more of your employees test positive for the virus.  It is vital that your organization knows how it will broach this obstacle if or when this happens.

This may include posting a sign on your window that discloses this information to the public, hence shifting the risk onto customers to enter your facility as operations continue, or shutting down the facility for two weeks or greater.  The tolerance of risk may vary greatly from community to community.

More Protections Under Development

Currently, there is litigation in congress for new business protections for as establishments face new, unknown, and potentially significant liability risks.

Some states, such as Utah and Oklahoma, have enacted a stand-alone liability protection statute providing immunity to business owners for “damages or injury resulting from exposure to COVID-19, so long as there was no willful misconduct, or reckless and intentional infliction of harm.”

Liability risks are magnified for event centers, restaurants, and bars that rely on attendees gathering in-person, as they could face litigation from employees and customers that test positive for the virus.  Though there is no way to trace a COVID-19 infection back to a particular establishment or event, the potential harm could be especially severe because most general liability insurance policies contain exclusions for claims related to “bacteria, viruses, or communicable disease.”

It is ultimately up to each venue to decide how and what protections they plan on implementing to decrease the possibility of legal crises.  When in doubt, consulting an insurance company is always a safe and reliable way to go.

MM&E

Roy R. Reichold is a Senior Risk Advisor for Lakenan.  To learn more information, visit lakenan.com or call (573) 883-7446.

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.