COVID-19 Texas (Re)Opening and Updates

I want to discuss the Governor’s Executive Order allowing the reopening of services and what this means for Courts and businesses.

Plans to Reopen Certain Businesses in Texas

On Monday, April 27, 2020, Governor Abbott issued an executive order establishing the initial phases of a plan to reopen certain types of businesses. (You can find the full order HERE.) Generally and with certain exceptions, it appears that in-store retail services, dine-in restaurant services, movie theaters, shopping malls, museums, and libraries will all be allowed to open at 25% capacity so long as they obey the social distancing guidelines. Additionally, individuals working alone in an office, golf course operations, and local government operations will all be fully reopening to the public but will be required to maintain social distancing guidelines. In all cases, the social distancing guidelines outlined by DSHS (which can be found HERE) and, to the extent they are not inconsistent with DSHS guidelines, CDC recommendations are to be maintained. 

The order specifically excludes bars, gyms, public swimming pools, interactive amusement venues, massage establishments, tattoo studios, piercing studios, or cosmetology salons from opening. It further orders that people shall not visit nursing homes or other similar facilities for the elderly or infirm and that schools will remain closed through the end of the 2019 – 2020 school year. 

The Governor also took the step of explicitly noting that the order supersedes any conflicting orders by local government and suspending relevant sections of the code granting certain authority to local government.

Supreme Court of Texas Expands Prohibition on In-Person Hearings

At the same time, The Supreme Court of Texas issued its Twelfth Emergency Order Regarding The Covid-19 State of Disaster apparently expanding the Courts’ prohibition on in-person hearings and directing, “[s]ubject only to constitutional limitations, all courts in Texas … to avoid risk to court staff, parties, attorneys, and the public without a participant’s consent …” In short, it appears that while Courts will continue to be empowered to conduct what are deemed “essential hearings,” Courts are directed to suspend deadlines, reset hearings, and take other necessary steps to avoid unnecessary risk to participants in the legal process.

How These Changes Will Affect Our Ellis County Community

These events beg a variety of questions for litigants, individuals, and businesses alike. Even before the present orders were issued, various news outlets noted substantial numbers of complaints being lodged with OSHA and other agencies regarding workplace safety concerns related to COVID-19. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to expect, if it hasn’t already been filed, the first retaliation, wrongful termination, or other employment law case to be filed against an employer for COVID-19 related issues. Some employers have already noted issues with getting employees who have been receiving the extra funds provided in the CARES Act through unemployment insurance to return to work and the first divorce, protective order, and custody cases have already been filed.

While it would take numerous law review articles (and we’re quite sure numerous stuffy, articles will be written) to address each of the various issues people are facing from this crisis, it does appear some answers are available. Proper handling of unemployment claims can address employees who prefer to continue to take unemployment than return to work and appropriate measures can address potential workplace regulatory and legal complaints before they become major issues. Family law issues have, in some cases, been addressed preemptively by The Supreme Court of Texas and some local Courts have filled in additional blanks. For example, strictly maintaining social distancing guidelines as provided by DSHS and the CDC will probably ward off most regulatory and employment law complaints. The Texas Supreme Court restated its prior position that possession schedules described in existing orders are to be maintained according to the previously existing school calendar and Ellis County Courts have provided procedures for supervised visitation.

We Are Here To Help

Regardless, there is no question that these are difficult times to navigate for individuals and businesses alike and I encourage you to call my office at (972) 937-1616. 

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