Like essential industries, COVID-19 has affected nearly every business. Since it first emerged in March 2020, many businesses have changed how they operate, adapted to various legislation changes, revamped technology to support customers, and prepared for the significant uptick in pandemic-related employment litigation.
Adjusting to the “new normal,” many non-essential industry businesses have taken a tremendous financial blow. Some of these non-essential industries include entertainment (i.e., movie theaters, live performance venues), beauty and nail salons, barbershops, gyms and fitness centers, and public venues (i.e., events spaces, public parks). We have already explored how essential industries have adapted to COVID-19, so here is part two of our two-part series exploring how businesses are modifying their operations to adapt to the evolving COVID-19 safety regulations.
- Movie Theaters
Many movie theaters were lumped into the non-essential industry group mandated to close in various states to prevent COVID-19 spread. Some movie theaters like Regal theaters temporarily closed on October 9, 2020, with the chance of re-opening slim to none. Other movie theaters like AMC® have successfully re-opened and are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s COVID-19 safety regulations. AMC® is also offering moviegoers a unique option of renting out a theater.
Another alternative to the film industry’s struggle to release in theaters is partnering with streaming networks. For example, HBO Max is offering its members opportunities to watch in-theater films for a limited time. Warner Bros.’s first launch was “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max. Additional 2021 major film releases to appear on HBO Max, as well as in theaters, include “The Matrix 4,” “Dune,” “In the Heights,” “The Suicide Squad,” and “The Many Saints of Newark.”
- Live Events (i.e., concerts, festivals)
Live performance venues and artists alike have had to get creative with ways to support each other during COVID-19. Popular music festivals like South by Southwest and Coachella are in jeopardy of postponing or cancellation due to physical distancing and self-quarantining regulations. Additionally, many artists have had to postpone or cancel tours, with a majority of state and local regulations prohibiting large public gatherings, especially indoor.
However, quarantine concerts have become the new trend among many artists, including James Blake, All Time Low, Chris Martin (of Coldplay), and John Legend. Utilizing social media platforms like Instagram Live and YouTube, artists have been able to perform – typically stripped-down versions – and stay connected with their fans.
Global Citizen also hosted a “One World: Together at Home” event, which featured some of music’s top artists like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, and Billie Eilish. The event was supported by the World Health Organization and raised nearly $128 million for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and local and regional non-profit organizations.
Save Our Stages Act
On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, which included the Save Our Stages Act (SOSA). The SOSA bill is intended to help concert venues, movie theaters, and recreational organizations that have been struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. The SOSA is projected to sustain the 3,000 venues that form the National Independent Venue Association through the remainder of the pandemic, but at least 88 venues statewide have permanently closed.
The SOSA is intended to help independent movie theaters survive the pandemic, but the National Association of Theatre Owners predicts that approximately 70% of movie theaters will permanently close or enter bankruptcy by spring 2021.
Gyms and Fitness Centers
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many states mandated gyms and fitness centers to close. However, a few months later, many were permitted to re-open following certain safety regulations. In September, New York allowed most gyms and fitness centers to re-open at one-third of the normal capacity and within strict regulations.
While regular exercise has shown to positively correlate with lowering mental health issues like depression and improve sleep, as well as help prevent serious COVID-19 infection, gyms and fitness centers still face risks. Limiting occupancy, proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment, wearing masks while exercising, and adequate physical distance between equipment stations are some of the regulations gyms and fitness centers have implemented and enforced.
However, some gyms and fitness centers have refused to follow public health and state guidelines causing lawsuits to be filed. Arizona, Washington, and California have all seen lawsuits from gyms and fitness centers not following mandated safety regulations.
Beauty and Nail Salons and Barbershops
Like gyms and fitness centers, beauty and nail salons and barbershops were included in the originally mandated closures. In addition, like gyms and fitness centers, many have been permitted to re-open with specific regulations to ensure public safety. Industry infection control experts recommend beauty and nail salons and barbershops follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), CDC, state and local public health agencies, and state boards of cosmetology for recommendations on safely re-opening and guidelines for disinfecting.
- Hand sanitation stations for client and staff use
- Clean personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used for each client, including smocks, capes, and drape materials
- Customer Interactions, such as requiring scheduled appointments to avoid crowded waiting areas, cashless payment systems to avoid high-touch methods, temperature screenings, signage for facility rules (i.e., mask-wearing, physical distancing), and communicating with clients before the appointment (i.e., asking if experiencing symptoms or potentially exposed to someone who is or has experienced symptoms)
- Temporarily removed or disallowed items, such as coffee or water stations, magazines, books, newspapers or other publications, candy dishes, product testers and samples, and online appointment scheduling and reminders to avoid physical appointment cards
Overview of COVID-19-Related Employment Litigation
It should come as no surprise that as employee health and workplace safety is under constant scrutiny with a surging global pandemic, employment litigation is inevitable. Remote work and leave conflicts, employment discrimination, and retaliation and whistleblower cases are leading employment litigation related to COVID-19. Other employment litigation cases have included wage and hour, unsafe workplace, negligence and wrongful death, non-compete and trade secrets, breach of contract, and ERISA and benefits.
California, New Jersey, and Florida lead employment litigation related to COVID-19 with all three states each having more than 100 active litigation cases. New York, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are close behind with each state having 50 to 99 active litigation cases. Most of the active litigation cases involve small to medium-sized businesses. Several law firms have litigation trackers for COVID-19–related employment litigation, such as Fisher Phillips.
Industry experts have observed many businesses, specifically SMBs, fear the impact litigation can have on their already struggling business – even with a win. Experts also say that while it is feared, the best route is to prepare for worst-case scenarios as employment litigation is likely to increase as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve.
To ensure you remain in compliance with local, state, and federal COVID-19 regulations, partner with VensureHR. As a trusted PEO, we can provide HR compliance experts who can provide industry best practices, tools and resources, and customer support for all your business needs.