After the state Supreme Court threw out the extended safer-at-home order and essentially removed all coronavirus-related business closures in much of the state, people had lots of questions.
Despite 161 pages of legal opinion, the state Supreme Court’s decision to end the extended safer-at-home order raised as many legal questions as it answered. Many of them concern the reopening of businesses.
Does the Supreme Court decision mean all businesses will reopen in Wisconsin?
No. Business owners may decide to remain closed, or reopen at their own pace and with their own restrictions. They may also be subject to local restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus that were unaffected by the Supreme Court decision about the statewide restrictions.
Some businesses may have lost their staff during the shutdown period and need to rehire before opening, or may have closed permanently.
Can a business owner make me keep a distance from others, or wash my hands, or wear a mask to get services or purchase products?
Yes. Private business owners can operate how they wish, short of illegal discrimination or safety violations. Remember “No shirt, no shoes, no service” signs? A more current example is the ban many businesses impose on weapons, even though the state allows properly licensed people to carry concealed guns in public generally.
What if I want to patronize a business but don’t follow its rules?
The owner or manager could ask you to leave, and call police to report trespassing or other conduct if your refusal becomes disruptive. Your beliefs about the coronavirus threat should not translate into violence against those who see the risk differently, like the shooting of a security guard in Michigan or the beating of store clerks in Pennsylvania, Indiana and California over customers’ refusals to wear masks.
If my employer reopens, do I have to return to work?
Erik Eisenmann, chairman of the labor and employment law group at Husch Blackwell, said that’s one of the most pressing questions so far. He said while some states have declared that a worker who refuses a return to the job because of coronavirus concerns can’t get unemployment, Wisconsin has not directly addressed that.
He said businesses should first ask themselves what have they done to assure the safety and protection of workers. If the business has taken strong steps, its probably fair to expect a worker to return, unless they have underlying health conditions that amplify the risk. In those instances, he said, the best step, if possible, might be to put that worker on furlough until he or she feels safer. “You don’t want to be the business that gets in the news for firing workers over their concerns about the virus,” Eisenmann said.
What if I go to a now-open business and get infected by the coronavirus?
Eisenmann said if the business is operating lawfully, in an area without any local restrictions, it would not be strictly liable for a customer’s contraction of COVID-19. He said if the business had imposed social distancing, extra sanitizing, had staff wearing masks or other steps to limit disease transmission, it would strengthen the argument it acted reasonably and was not negligent, and should not be liable for a customer’s illness. A jury might decide that.
Will the local restrictions remain in place?
The Legislature has not challenged them, but Eisenmann said someone else could try to sue individual businesses that impose certain restrictions, like gun owners who unsuccessfully challenged some businesses who ban concealed weapons. “I suppose someone could try to argue that wearing a mask violates their constitutional rights,” he said.
Read or Share this story: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/wisconsin/2020/05/14/what-you-need-know-businesses-reopening-wisconsin/5190132002/