The situation with COVID-19 is ever changing. Some of the hardest hit are small businesses. I am, like my partners at the firm, a small business owner as well as an attorney. We know there is no playbook for the handling of this virus. However, when making decisions for your business, such as whether to close or what you need to provide employees, it is very important to go “directly to the source” when new laws or orders are passed. Do not rely on the news or Facebook. For example, on Tuesday, Governor Evers issued Emergency Order #5. This is the law that changed the game for bars and restaurants and prohibits public or private “mass gatherings” in the State of Wisconsin. You can find a copy of that Order here: https://evers.wi.gov/Documents/COVID19/UPDATEDOrder10People.pdf
If you read the Order, “mass gatherings” are defined as “any planned or spontaneous, public or private event or convening that will bring together or is likely to bring together 10 or more people in a single room or single confined or enclosed space at the same time.” There is a lot of information in that statement that wasn’t reported on the news. This even precludes gatherings of ten or more in your own home. Note also that the order is punishable by imprisonment (yikes!) and/or fines. Fortunately, we have not heard of anyone receiving fines, but we do know police are enforcing this Order in some communities.
As with any good law, there are many gray areas, but those gray areas are where you can decide what is best for your business, as long as you are complying with the portions of the law that are clear (like the closure of indoor shopping malls!). Reading the Order in its entirety also helps to understand why certain businesses are closed and others are not. Please also remember that laws are made at Federal, State, and local levels, so when you hear something, it is also important to pay attention to what level of government is making that mandate.
It probably won’t be long before our current situation changes again. When it does, don’t rely on the news when making important decisions for your business and employees. Go to the source and educate yourself (as best you can), think through your situation within the confines of the law, and then ask questions. We are always here to help you with questions or thinking through the next steps.
About the Author – Kathryn M. Blom is an attorney with Epiphany Law and a business owner. Her practice focuses on complex business law, contracts, exit planning, securities, mergers and acquisitions. She advises her clients on how to identify effective solutions and achieve their business goals.