Coronavirus Legal Update: Guidance for Small Businesses

  • March 26th, 2020
  • News
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This Monday, March 23, 2020, Governor Henry McMaster issued Executive Order 2020-13, which authorizes law enforcement to “prohibit or disperse any congregation or gathering 3 or more people “unless authorized or in their homes…”  The same day, he released a statement in which he specifically stated that this Order “does not apply to private businesses nor to responsible South Carolinas continuing to make the best out of this situation.”  (emphasis added).

While this comes as great news for many of South Carolina’s small businesses, this Executive Order comes on the heels of Executive Order 2020-10, which temporarily prohibits restaurants from providing certain food services for on-premises consumption.  As a result of that Executive Order, a large portion of South Carolina’s small businesses – namely, small independent restaurants which make up a large portion of Greenville’s small businesses, many of which provide high-end food which cannot be prepared quickly for carry out and are now essentially forced to compete with large, nationally-recognized fast-food chains – have already been forced to close their doors. 

When read together, it is clear that Executive Orders 2020-10 through 2020-13 – all of which set forth state guidelines in the wake of a national pandemic – have perhaps the unintended consequence of applying to small businesses unequally depending on the service provided.  In contrast to the situation with small restaurants in South Carolina, many small independent gyms appear to be experiencing a boon to business as a result of the closure of larger gym chains.  In response to the closure of Gold’s Gym, for example, some smaller independent gyms are keeping their doors open, whether it be to capitalize off the influx of larger gym closures or whether they are just trying to survive in a crises which may increasingly lead residences to move toward on-demand workouts and home gyms.  

While Governor McMaster was clear that a stay-in-place order is exactly what Executive Order 2020-13 is designed to prevent, a stay-in-place Order may be inevitable.  The uneven consequences being applied to South Carolina’s small business not only make further spread of the virus a possibility but could endanger the very businesses that are the backbone of South Carolina.

In light of Governor McMaster’s Executive Order, here are some things small businesses can do protect themselves now and avoid problems down the road:

  1. When you need legal advice on whether and how to remain open, seek it.  While many law firms (including The Miller Law Firm, P.A.) are going to great lengths to ensure the health of its clients, they are here to help in light of growing concerns and questions, as what happens on Main Street affects us all.  We also have our pulse on what grants and resources are available for small business during these difficult times.  Do not hesitate to reach out, and where health is a concern, know that many of us are able to meet remotely to discuss your business concerns.
  2. Keep your small business clean, and avoid larger gatherings as much as possible within your office.  While Governor McMaster clearly stated that Executive Order 2020-13 does not apply to small businesses, the Executive Order itself prohibits gatherings of 3 or more groups unless authorized and in homes.  His accompanying statement would appear to mean business are authorized to operate without exception.  However, without further clarity, all business can and should operate as safely and efficiently as possible.
  3. Remember the greater good and that the greater good may not be the same for everyone.  It is heart-breaking to see the blame-game played out in difficult times and we must all understand that the circumstances for many businesses vary.  For those small business owners who can afford to do so, now may be the time to take that much-needed vacation, however anxiety-filled it may be.  For those small businesses owners who cannot afford to stop production and are not prohibited from doing so in light of recent state and federal guidance, understand the fear that surrounds this virus and ensure you are placing your business in a safe environment after assessing all of the risk.  Ensure that the social distancing guidelines are being met to protect your health and safety, as well as that of your workers and potential clients. 

Melissa Miller is an attorney with The Miller Law Firm, P.A. She may be reached at melissa@themillerlawfirmpa.com and by calling The Miller Law Firm at 864-527-0413.

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