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On March 12, 2021 Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an Executive Order, effective through March 31, 2021, that eliminates many of the requirements for businesses that have been established in previous Executive Orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Executive Order provides guidance and requirements for a variety of different settings, including businesses generally, healthcare, education & childcare, government, and sports & live performance venues. This article, however, focuses on the differences between the latest executive order and past executive orders as pertains to businesses generally. The March 12 Executive Order includes the following highlights.

  1. Combines the restaurant and bar requirements together in one section to create one set of standards that apply to both types of establishments;
  2. Reduces or eliminates some of the requirements for restaurants and bars, such as the requirement that employee workstations be six feet apart, the prohibition on handshaking, limits on the number of persons in break rooms, the emphasis on reservation only and call-ahead service and certain social distancing guidelines.
    The seating guidelines for patrons, however, must still ensure that seating arrangements are at least six (6) feet apart or utilize physical barriers to separate groups of seating within six (6) feet.
  3. Eliminates some of the suggestions and requirements of the Critical Infrastructure and Non-critical Infrastructure organizations that continue in-person operation. For example, the new Executive Order does not encourage businesses to implement teleworking, staggered shifts, remote delivery of intangible services or meetings and conferences for either Critical nor Non-critical Infrastructure. Handshaking is no longer prohibited, and retailers and service providers are no longer required to have open sales registers at least six (6) feet apart when in use.
  4. Food & Grocery establishments are no longer required to check restrooms regularly or clean and sanitize based on frequency of use or maintain an adequate supply of soap and paper towels.

The new Executive Order can be found at https://gov.georgia.gov/executve-action/executive-orders/2021-executive-orders.

What Should Employers Do Now?

We recommend that employers continue to educate themselves and follow the guidance presented in the Executive Orders in their state, as well as the guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As discussed in our prior alerts, the newly enacted American Rescue Plan (ARP) will provide federal agencies, such as OSHA and DOL, with additional funding, which will most likely lead to increased audits on businesses. In addition, on March 12, 2021 OSHA adopted a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on COVID 19, effective immediately, which allows OSHA to adopt programs at the local, regional and national level to initiate an enforcement directive that authorizes more inspections and citations in a given industry. Thus, employers should stay vigilant and follow the stricter OSHA guidelines to avoid legal trouble.

General OSHA guidance for protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace can be found at the following link. https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safeworkOSHA also provides more industry specific guidance for about 29 different industries. https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/guidance/industry.

Conclusion

Our firm will closely monitor legislative proposals to keep you abreast of the latest developments that impact your business. If you have questions regarding the ARP, please contact one of our attorneys at 404-844-4130.

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