Many restaurants finally able to reopen after state-mandated shutdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus are closing their doors again, not because of state orders, but because they fear someone in their establishment has contracted COVID-19.
Most states don’t require restaurants to close if an employee tests positive for the virus. It is generally up to the owners to decide how to handle the situation, whether they sanitize the restaurant, test other workers, or tell customers.
“We weren’t trying to cover anything up,” Pete Boland, owner of the Galley in St. Petersburg, Florida, told the Washington Post. “There’s no playbook.” During the middle of dinner service, he learned several of his employees had tested positive for COVID-19. He immediately went to each table and informed guests that it was last call and that the restaurant was closing due to safety reasons. He then spent the next weekend lining up testing for his 60 employees.
When owners of Hash Kitchen in Arizona learned someone at the restaurant had tested positive for COVID-19, they went into overdrive, shuttering the brunch spot, hiring a company to professionally disinfect the space, and notifying customers through social media.
“They’re trying to figure out how to set an example without much direction from the government,” said Erica Knight, a spokesperson for Hash Kitchen, told the Post. “It’s the Wild West out here.”
Shuttering again so soon after state-mandated closures has put restaurants in an even greater bind. Many sought relief from their insurers from the shutdowns, filing claims against their business interruption insurance. The insurance, part of a business owner’s policy, provides coverage of payroll and other operating expenses in the event a business has to temporarily close due to a disaster. Examples include fires or tornadoes. Restaurants across the country have filed business interruption claims for the government shutdown only to be told by their insurers that pandemics are not the kind of disasters they cover.
It’s caused quite a ruckus. Small and mid-sized businesses across the country have filed lawsuits against their insurance companies looking for relief they feel they are entitled to. Some lawmakers have joined the fight, threatening to pass legislation to force insurance companies to pay if they don’t step up and do the right thing.
An impossible choice
And now these restaurants are struggling again, not because they have to, but because it’s the right thing. They want to protect their staff and customers.
“In a way, it’s harder than when things were shut down,” said John deBary, co-founder and board president of the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation. “You’re given this choice, and it’s an impossible choice.”
Beasley Allen is actively pursuing cases with clients whose insurance companies denied their business interruption claims. Dee Miles, Head of our Consumer Fraud Section, Rachel Boyd and Paul Evans are spearheading this litigation for our firm. They would like to talk to you about any potential claims.