New Hampshire Puts Teeth Into Enforcement of COVID Emergency Orders
The COVID pandemic has forced all of us – businesses and individuals alike – to modify our behavior and take proactive steps daily to keep clients, customers, employees and loved ones safe. As part of that effort, earlier this year Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order 52, regarding public health guidance for business operations. Exhibit A to Emergency Order 52 established “Universal Guidelines” that apply to all businesses, organizations and individual business operators in New Hampshire. In turn, Exhibit B to Emergency Order 52 created specific guidelines for a broad array of industries in New Hampshire. Despite the use of the terms “guidelines” and “guidance” in the Emergency Order, the plain language of the Order requires mandatory compliance from all businesses and other organizations seeking to operate in New Hampshire.
Earlier this week the Attorney General confirmed the teeth in Emergency Order 52, announcing civil penalties against three New Hampshire businesses for violating its provisions, and issuing enforcement warnings to two other businesses citing both Emergency Order 52 as well as Emergency Order 63.
The three businesses penalized were each cited for employees not wearing required face coverings. A common theme in each of these three circumstances was that the business had been warned more than once about non-compliant behavior, and failed to address the concerns. The two businesses warned were also cited for a lack of required face coverings under Emergency Order 52, as well as a lack of required face coverings at gatherings of 100 or more people, as required by Emergency Order 63.
In issuing its findings, the Attorney General’s office noted:
“Violations of the Governor’s Emergency Order 52, and its applicable Guidance, are taken very seriously. These Orders have been instituted so New Hampshire businesses and organizations can operate as safely as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. By not complying with Emergency Orders, businesses risk endangering the health of their employees, customers and the public in general. Businesses also risk further legal enforcement actions to achieve compliance.”
Violations of any Emergency Order are subject to civil penalties of up to $1,000 per violation or $2,000 per day, depending on the nature of the violation.
The terms set forth in the various COVID Emergency Orders issued over the past several months are mandatory. As shown this week, the Attorney General’s office is very serious about enforcing those terms to protect public safety. As we enter winter and a potentially more difficult phase of the pandemic, organizations would be wise to review their policies and procedures to ensure maximum compliance with all applicable Emergency Orders, and avoid the sanctions and the negative publicity that comes with non-compliance.