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Late Thursday (March 19, 2020), the County of Los Angeles issued its Safer at Home Order, restricting and limiting the gathering of persons and requiring closure of all non-essential business operations for a period of 30 days, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on March 19. As part of the Order, all businesses who fall outside the very limited definitions of “Essential Businesses” are ordered to close shop, send employees home, and discontinue any on-site work during the restricted period.

Businesses are permitted to allow employees to work from home or telework, wherever possible, but are expressly restricted in having employees report to the physical business locations. The County has announced that the purpose behind the restrictions and closures is to limit the spread of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

Among the businesses excluded from application of the Countywide order, and defined as “Essential Businesses” are:

(a) Grocery stores, certified farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, pet supply, water, fresh meats, fish, and poultry, and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning or personal care products). This includes stores that sell groceries and sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences;

(b) Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing;

(c) Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals;

(d) Newspapers, television, radio, magazine, podcast and other media services;

(e) Gas stations, and auto-supply, auto-repair, car dealerships and related facilities;

(f) Banks, credit unions, and related financial institutions;

(g) Hardware stores, nurseries; building supplies;

(h) Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, custodial/janitorial workers, handyman services, funeral home workers and morticians, moving services, HVAC installers, carpenters, landscapers, gardeners, property managers, private security personnel and other service providers who provide services to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation to properties and other Essential Businesses;

(i) Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes;

(j) Educational institutions (including public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities) for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions, provided that social distancing of 6-feet per person is maintaining to the greatest extent possible;

(k) Laundromats, dry cleaners, laundry service providers, personal grooming services;

(l) Restaurants and other food facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery, drive thru or carry out;

(m) Businesses that supply office or computer products needed by people who work from home;

(n) Businesses that supply other Essential Businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate;

(o) Businesses that ship, truck, provide logistical support or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences, Essential Businesses, Healthcare Operations, Essential Infrastructure;

(p) Airlines, taxis, and other private transportation providers providing transportation services necessary for activities of daily living and other purposes expressly authorized in this Order;

(q) Businesses that provide parts and service for Essential Infrastructure;

(r) Home-based care for seniors, adults, disabled persons, or children;

(s) Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, disabled persons, and children;

(t) Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities, and the permitting, inspection, construction, transfer and recording of ownership, of housing and anything incidental thereto;

(u) Military/Defense Contractors/FFRDC (Federally Funded Research and Development Centers). For purposes of this Order, essential personnel may leave their residence to provide any service or perform any work deemed essential for national security including, but not limited to defense, intelligence and aerospace development and manufacturing for the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, and NASA and other federal government, and or United States Government departments and agencies. Essential personnel include prime, sub-primes, and supplier contractor employees, at both the prime contract level and any supplier levels at any tier, working on federal United States Government contracts such as contracts rated under the Defense Priorities and Allocations System (DPAS) and contracts for national intelligence and national security requirements.;

(v) Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees exempted in this Order to work as permitted. To the extent possible, childcare facilities must operate under the following mandatory conditions: (1) Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 12 or fewer (“stable" means the same 12 or fewer children are in the same group each day); (2) Children shall not change from one group to another; (3) If more than one group of children is cared for at once facility, each group shall be in a separate room. Groups shall not mix with each other; (4) Childcare providers shall remain solely with one group of children.

(w) Hotels, motels, shared rental units and similar facilities.

Also EXCLUDED from the Order are “essential infrastructure or operations” which are defined as:

15(b)(i) Healthcare Operations (hospitals, clinics, laboratories, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, other licensed healthcare facilities, healthcare suppliers, home healthcare service providers, mental health providers, cannabis dispensaries with providers of medicinal cannabis license, medical or scientific research companies, or any related and/or ancillary healthcare services, manufacturers, distributors and servicers of medical devices, diagnostics, and equipment, veterinary care, and all healthcare provided to animals. This exemption shall be broadly construed to avoid any impact to the delivery of healthcare, broadly defined. Healthcare Operations does not include fitness and exercise gyms and similar exercise or training facilities.

(ii) Essential Infrastructure, including but not limited to, public works construction, construction of housing (in particular affordable housing or housing for individuals experience homelessness), airport operations, port operations, water, sewer, gas, electrical, oil refining, road and highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, internet and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services), and manufacturing and distribution companies deemed essential as part of the Essential Infrastructure supply chain, provided that they carry out those services or that work in compliance with social distancing requirements, to the extent practicable.

Please note that violation of this County Order is a crime punishable by civil fine, imprisonment or both (California Health and Safety Code §120295; Los Angeles County Code §11.02.080). You are strongly encouraged to speak with competent legal counsel to confirm that your business fits into one of these extremely limited categories.

County officials announced as part of a press conference on Thursday night that the 30-day Order may be extended, depending on circumstances yet to be determined. So, we may be in this for a very long haul!

As part of the mandated closures, many businesses are discussing various options including: work-from-home (telework) arrangements; reduction in employees’ work hours; work furloughs and, in some cases, layoffs, associated with the latest directives. Each of these options requires careful deliberation and consideration of legal ramifications. In many cases, they require specific written notices to the affected employees.

The attorneys at Poole Shaffery are standing by to assist your business!