Navigating Colorado's New Stay at Home Order

March 26, 2020

    Colorado’s governor issued a Stay-at-Home (SAH) order requiring all Coloradans to stay home except for certain circumstances, effective March 26, 2020. While Colorado’s government has done its best to account for all situations, the order does not clearly address everything. If you own a business, you probably have questions. I’ve included the answers to some of the more common questions below.

     Keep in mind that these answers assume that you are healthy and not showing any symptoms of COVID-19. If you do have symptoms, you need to self-isolate unless you are sick enough that you need medical care.

Am I a critical business?

     The order allows certain critical businesses, including those that sell food “and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products).” It also classifies businesses that sell items that help people keep working from home as critical. If you sell upscale lotions or organic cleaning products, you may be wondering if you count as a critical business. You may, but keep in mind that the intent of the order is to keep people from gathering in groups and infecting each other or touching surfaces that may carry the virus.

     Recently, craft stores JoAnn Fabrics and Michael’s and video game retailer Gamestop tried to argue with officials in Illinois that they were critical businesses because they sell supplies that help people work at home, they sell things that help distract people from the current crisis, and, in the case of JoAnn, that they sell fabric used for making masks for healthcare workers. Government officials were not impressed and slapped these retailers with cease-and-desist orders.

     If you’re in a gray area (i.e., you’re not clearly a grocery store or similar retailer), best practice is probably to close your doors to foot traffic.

Can I go into my business to check on things?

     Yes. The order allows you to go to your business location to perform the “minimum necessary activities to . . . maintain the value of the business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions.” It also allows you to go to your business to perform minimum necessary activities to facilitate your employees working from home.

I have a retail business that is not considered a critical business. Can I ship purchases to customers while keeping my store closed?

     Maybe. The order does not directly address this. You are permitted to work from home (in fact, businesses that can continue to operate while working from home are encouraged to do so) and, as discussed above, to perform minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of your business’s inventory and to facilitate employees working from home, so this may allow you to collect items that are to be shipped to a customer and then send them out, particularly from your home, and particularly if you are not interacting with any employees or members of the general public in doing so. However, you may want to check with an attorney before proceeding because this is a definite gray area.

How long do I have to stay closed?

     Right now, the SAH Order is effective until April 11, 2020 (although chances look good that this will change). Public Health Order 20-22, however, mandates the closure of bars, restaurants, theaters, gymnasiums, casinos, nonessential personal services facilities (such as nail salons, tattoo parlors, and spas), and horse track and off-track betting facilities through April 30. Before opening back up, make sure you’ve checked all of the relevant orders to be sure you’re not violating any.

My city or county has also issued public health orders. Which ones do I have to follow?

     Generally, the most restrictive order is the one you should follow. So if the state order does not require your business to close, but your local county order does, unfortunately, you probably have to close.

What are the penalties for violating the Stay-at-Home order?

     Violating these orders is a misdemeanor. For an individual, this can mean a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail. C.R.S. 25-1-114. The Department of Public Health also has the authority to bring an administrative action and, ultimately, impose civil penalties against a business violating these orders. These penalties can be up to $1,000 per each day that the order was violated. C.R.S. 25-1-114.1. Depending on the situation, other penalties may apply as well.

This document is intended to provide you with general information regarding the recent Stay at Home Order issued in Colorado. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you need specific advice, please contact me to discuss your situation.