As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly, with the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. well above 200,000, Georgia has now joined the growing number of states implementing statewide stay-at-home orders. Although Governor Brian Kemp initially favored county-by-county determinations, he recently announced a statewide Shelter-in-Place Order, as well as an order shutting down all Georgia public schools for the remainder of the academic year.
The governor’s comprehensive Shelter-in-Place Order, which is in effect from 6 p.m. on April 3, 2020 through 11.59 p.m. on April 13, 2020, supersedes the far less restrictive March 23, 2020 order. In addition to requiring residents and visitors to remain in their residences (with certain limited exceptions), the Order also implements a number of additional restrictions and mandates on Georgia businesses.
Governor Kemp’s Order maintains the existing restriction on gatherings of more than 10 persons at a single location, as well as the mandatory closure of all Georgia bars. The Order expands the shelter-in-place requirement, which was previously applicable only to certain high-risk populations, to include all Georgia residents and visitors. Individuals throughout Georgia must stay inside their residences except for the following reasons:
- To conduct or participate in the following essential services:
- Obtaining necessary supplies and services for family and household members, including equipment necessary to work from home. The Order directs that individuals should make use of online ordering, home delivery, and curbside pick-up whenever possible.
- Activities essential for the health and safety of household or family members, such as to access medical, behavioral health, or emergency services.
- Outdoor exercise, while maintaining a minimum distance of six feet between all persons not occupants of the same household.
- To perform “necessary travel,” defined as travel required to conduct or participate in the above identified essential services, or to conduct or participate in business operations categorized as “minimum basic operations” or “critical infrastructure” under the Order, as detailed below.
Those sheltering in place are also prohibited from permitting visitors to their residences, with limited exceptions permitted for the provision of medical supplies and certain health and assisted care services, and in end-of-life circumstances. Individuals visiting a residence for the sole purpose of delivering medication or supplies are required to do so in a manner that does not require in-person contact or entry to the residence. The order further advises that these restrictions on permissible visitations will be more strictly enforced in environments with individuals who are at higher risk of more severe complications from COVID-19, such as nursing homes, assisted living communities, and inpatient hospice care.
With regard to business operations, the Order requires the closure of certain categories of business, including gyms, bowling alleys, theaters, live performance venues, operators of amusement rides, body art studios, salons, and massage therapy offices.
Businesses considered to be critical infrastructure under the Order include those businesses, establishments, corporations, non-profit corporations, and organizations as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s guidance on essential critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure also includes suppliers that provide essential goods and services to the critical infrastructure workforce, as well as entities that provide legal services, home hospice care, and non-profit organizations offering food distribution or other health services. These businesses may maintain their operations, but are required to implement measures to mitigate exposure to and the spread of COVID-19 among their workforce including, but not limited to, screening and evaluating workers who exhibit signs of illness, such as a fever or cough; requiring workers who exhibit signs of illness not to report to work; increasing sanitation in the workplace; prohibiting gatherings of workers and implementing staggered shifts when feasible; and implementing teleworking for all possible workers. These requirements are consistent with the guidance provided by the EEOC in its March 27, 2020 webinar, which addressed permissible actions employers may take during the COVID-19 pandemic while still remaining compliant with federal antidiscrimination laws.
Although stopping short of requiring the closure of non-essential businesses, the order implements numerous restrictions and requirements on businesses which are not identified as critical infrastructure, but are also not subject to closure. These businesses must limit their activities to those identified as minimum basic operations, which include only the following:
- The minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of a business, establishment, corporation, non-profit corporation, or organization, provide services, manage inventory, ensure security, or process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions. Such minimum necessary activities include remaining open to the public, subject to the restrictions of the Order.
- The minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees or volunteers being able to work remotely from their residences or members or patrons being able to participate remotely from their residences.
- Instances where employees are working outdoors without regular contact with other persons, such as delivery services, contractors, landscape businesses, and agricultural industry services.
Businesses permitted to maintain only minimum basic operations are likewise required to implement measures mitigating the exposure to and spread of COVID-19 among the workforce. The Order provides a list of 16 measures these businesses are required to take, such as implementing telework for all possible workers; prohibiting handshaking; holding all meetings and conferences virtually whenever possible; and providing for alternate points of sale outside of buildings, including curbside pick-up or delivery of products and/or services if permitted under Georgia law.
The Order provides for the mandatory closure of noncompliant businesses following reasonable notice. The adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard will also provide resources as requested to assist in enforcement.
It is therefore critical for businesses in Georgia to be aware of the requirements for continued operation under this order. Governor Kemp is expected to issue additional guidance to assist individuals and businesses in adhering to the mandates of the Order. If you have questions on the requirements of the order or other questions with respect to your workforce related to COVID-19, please contact Reed Smith’s Labor & Employment COVID-19 Task Force at rsCoronavirusEmploymentTeam@ReedSmith.com.