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Weisblatt Law Firm, LLC $1000.00 Scholarship Winner Alexandra Pirsos

Alexandra Pirsos
Subject: “What duty, if any, does a business have to protect the general public during Covid-19? What about it’s employees? Support your position.

The term citizen typically refers to people, however it is easy to forget that businesses are also citizens. The only difference is that they are corporate citizens. A corporate citizen means that organizations are accountable when following the ethical, financial, and legal responsibilities determined by stakeholders. With this understanding, it is clear that businesses are responsible to abide by the laws of the US. This mindset definitely still applies to businesses during Covid-19, as they have the responsibility to protect both the general public and employees to the best of their ability. While the way businesses strategize to protect its stakeholders may differ from company to company, they all need to remember their role as a corporate citizen when making Covid-19 related decisions.

With regard to employees, in its broadest sense, companies should always seek to provide a safe work environment for its workers. Pandemic aside, there are a plethora of current and evolving rules set in place to protect employees. Some of these protective measures include fire safety, disability access, and building inspections. When creating an office space, there are so many factors to consider in order to combat future safety concerns. With Covid-19 in mind, protocols need to be adjusted to meet these new safety demands. What that specifically looks like for each company will definitely vary. Especially in the early stages of the pandemic, companies that had the capacity to transition to an all-remote environment needed to think about employee’s access to technology, Wi-Fi capabilities, and digital protection when sharing files. On the opposite end of the spectrum, first line workers had to think about social distancing, cleaning procedures, and obtaining proper PPE. Each company will demand different adaptations in order to keep workers safe, and furthermore the way these adaptations are implemented will vary. Ultimately, the government dictates worker’s rights which include regulations of employee hours, wages, and health and safety. At this point in time, health and safety includes protecting employees, to the best of a company’s ability, against Covid-19.

The responsibility for business to protect the general public during the pandemic also varies greatly company to company. For a social media company that works remotely, their interactions with the general public include spreading pandemic related information through their platform. A restaurant chain on the other hand needs to consider how dining in their space could potentially lead to the spread of Covid-19 among its customers, and how to combat that. While it can be difficult to know how to approach safety for the general public, employers should start by following cues from the various government entities they are constituents of. All companies fall under brand auspices of the CDC and should attempt to implement as much of the guidelines as it is reasonable to protect the broader public. State and local authorities will also impact company decisions to varying degrees based on individual company circumstances. For example, are company employees commuting to work via mass transit? Are the services of the company providing a societal benefit, such as religious or health entities? These are the types of questions that will ultimately determine the regulations for each company on a case-by-case basis. Overall, companies do have a responsibility to protect the public by implementing government Covid-19 guidelines to the best of their ability with the end goal of protecting the public at large.

With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that some of these considerations could also hurt businesses. When companies have to reduce capacity or close their doors entirely from these regulations it will have a large impact on the health of the company. Businesses are responsible for upholding the safety rules that the government sets, yet at the same time the government has a responsibility back to the businesses to set these rules in a way that maximizes both public and business safety. Asking a business to close down indefinitely is not necessarily the optimal solution for either party depending on the circumstances. Each stakeholder (businesses, government entities, employees, and the public) needs to do their part in order for the entire system to prosper, especially during a difficult time.

It’s also important to note that there are additional ways to enhance workplace safety during the pandemic. One tool is information. Businesses can use their platform internally or externally to share information on how to stay safe at work and in everyday life. Some companies can use their connections and resources to provide Covid-19 tests or even vaccines to employees. Some companies may choose to use excess funding to support Covid-19 initiatives. Some companies may even choose to give employees time off to get a Covid-19 test or vaccine, or when a family passes away due to related health concerns. What’s important to keep in mind is that these items are additional items for a reason. Businesses are not required to engage in these types of activities. If business leaders decide that they would like to provide extra resources or programs to help alleviate the burden of the pandemic that is their prerogative to do so. However, the minimum standard that businesses do need to be held accountable to is keeping their employees and the public safe under the guidelines communicated to them by regulating authorities.

As we transition into a recovery stage from the pandemic, it is important to listen to updated regulations and adjust policies as necessary. Covid-19 has caused massive challenges for businesses, which gives businesses the opportunity to rethink their strategies and what responsibility they have to keep their stakeholders safe. Both citizens and corporate citizens need to do their part in order to embrace what will hopefully soon be a new, new normal

Steven Hanson

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KATY, TX 77493