UPDATE: Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered a two-week shelter-in-place to begin Monday, November 16, 2020. During that time, all non-essential businesses have been ordered to close, other businesses have been ordered to reduce capacity, and restaurants have been restricted to take-out and curbside service only. Click here to view the November 13, 2020 Public Health Order.
If you’re a business owner, there’s a good chance you’re finding it hard to keep up with the latest public health orders prescribing what businesses are essential and how “open” they can be. Making things more complicated is the grey area between “essential” and “non-essential” services. Grocery stores that service the public and provide needed supplies are generally considered essential. What about small corner stores, or multi-purpose storefronts that sell essentials? Similarly, “emergency dental facilities” are considered essential, but what constitutes an “emergency dental facility”? Does any dentist who takes clients on an emergency basis qualify?
Often, the answer is simply “we don’t know”. The vagueness of the Public Health Orders doesn’t consider every possible scenario, so we’re left using our best judgment to determine which business do or do not qualify as essential. The people enforcing these laws are often doing the exact same thing — making educated guesses. With that in mind, are there some things you can do to protect yourself and avoid unwanted sanctions or penalties (including, in some cases, loss of licensure) by the government? Yes! Here are a few:
- Read the latest Public Health Order here. More than that, keep up with the news to see how it’s changing. These orders usually only last for two weeks, but they can be extended or revised at any time. Our fight against COVID-19 is changing day-by-day, and the public health order may change with it.
- Read the governor’s “Frequently Asked Questions” here. You may find that your question has already been answered.
- Review the categories of Essential and Non-Essential Businesses here. Your business may fall cleanly into one of these categories.
- When in doubt, talk to a business attorney. We go beyond the Public Health Order and consider the laws and precedent that might impact your business and whether it’s “essential” or not. This is especially useful if your business falls into a gray area.
To help address the needs of our clients and the general business community, we’re offering 30-minute, no commitment phone (or Zoom/Skype/etc.) consultations for only $149. We’re here to help answer your questions about public health orders, contracts, leases, and other concerns facing your business. If you’d like to speak with a business attorney, click here to book a consult.
Author: Ian Alden
Ian Alden is an associate attorney with Law 4 Small Business, P.C. He is licensed to practice law in New Mexico and, with a Tax LL.M. from Boston University, focuses on tax issues for clients of the firm.