As restaurants across Texas are allowed to open their doors to more diners per phase three of the Governer’s reopening plan, there are questions about their duty when COVID-19 strikes.
Just this week, Preston Hollow staple Royal China announced it was temporarily closing “out of an overabundance of caution and care” after an employee, who’d had *no* contact with customers got sick.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the restaurant announced it had been sanitizing daily. Still, it pledged to have all employees tested.
It’s a step few have taken since the number of COVID-19 cases began to grow in DFW.
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Dallas steakhouse Town Hearth was one of the first to do so.
In a statement to our partners at the Dallas Morning News, owner-operator Nick Badovinus said an employee who wasn’t feeling well was sent home and later tested positive.
He said he informed staff by phone and added that they would “do everything we can to let people know that if they came to our restaurant on February 28th or later, they may been exposed.”
According to attorney Brad Nitschke, proactive approaches may be pragmatic but not necessarily legally required.
Nitschke is a partner at Jackson Walker and the chair of the firm’s COVID-19 task force.
“A lot of the law about COVID-19 and what you have to do in response to COVID-19 is still being written. This is still a developing situation, and I think we’re still a ways away to having firm answers to a lot of these questions,” said Brad Nitschke.
Nitschke said he’s had many of his clients approach him now to plan for what they’ll do should a customer or employee get infected.
He encourages everyone to enlist the help of their attorney when that happens saying there are several things to consider including whether other employees were exposed, whether customers were and whether they answer to a higher regulatory or licensing authority who could have their own regulations in place.
According to the Dallas County Health Department, businesses aren’t required to disclose whether an employee’s been infected to patrons or employees.
Still, they point to CDC guidance recommending staff be informed of possible exposure.
As the number of cases continues to climb in several cities while more people return to normal activities, Nitschke said employers and consumers should ask themselves an important question.
“What level of risk do you feel comfortable with given the unknowns of the current situation?” said Nitschke.
Nitschke said for those who do choose to disclose employee infections, it's important to remember the identity of the employee must be protected.