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Coronavirus raises legal issues for businesses

Virus is uncharted territory for businesses

ROANOKE, Va. – A local law firm is offering advice to businesses making decisions about how to respond to the coronavirus.

Gentry Locke in Roanoke described what’s happening now as uncharted territory, so businesses with questions should consider reaching out to a law firm before making decisions.

One question businesses have asked is can the business be sued if someone there gets the coronavirus.

According to the firm, as long as the business was following Centers of Disease Control and Virginia Department of Health guidelines at the time, a lawsuit is unlikely.

Businesses also need to remember to report coronavirus cases to OSHA.

“If you end up with two or three employees in your workforce contracting the disease, there’s going to be a need to really investigate that and there may be some need for testing at that point because there is an obligation to report it if you have reason to believe that the virus was contracted in your job," Gentry Locke partner David Paxton said.

VDH released new guidelines Wednesday, stating anyone who is sick should stay home until they are symptom free and off medication for at least three days.

“That could change next week, so really the message is this is such a fast-moving thing that people need to go to those websites, the official websites for the Virginia Department of health and the CDC on a regular basis," Paxton said.

He expects a lot of litigation to happen in the future over decisions made to deal with the coronavirus.

We asked Paxton some other questions:

Are my contracts still enforceable if I close my business?

“Some contracts have a provision that’s called a force majore, which is the notion that there’s an event outside anybody’s expectancy or control. In those situations, neither party has a right to insist on performance. My guess is, most contracts with childcare facilities and with health clubs probably don’t have those, but they could. The first thing would be to look at what your membership agreement or what your contract is,” Paxton said.

If I have more than 10 employees at my business, does that violate the governor’s order of no gatherings of more than 10 people?

“The governor’s order was addressed to places where there’s a lot of people coming in and out all the time,” said Paxton. If you’ve got 10 people that are working on a particular floor and they come in and there’s not a lot of in-and-out, that’s a different situation and I think that’s why the order doesn’t go there."

Can the 10-person gathering limit be enforced on places of worship?

“There are church-and-state issues; however, in a public health crisis like this, it’s not unprecedented for the government to impose restrictions, to shut down houses of worship. It happened during the Spanish Flu in 1918,” Paxton said.