Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

How To Reopen Your Small Business After Shutdown

A business owner changing the store sign to OPEN after being closed for a period of time due to social distancing guidelines related to Coronavirus.

Temporary closures of a small business are a headache for both customers and small business owners. It's worse when you're the service provider or company trying to devise a reopening plan. There are deadlines, renovations, and debris cleanup to consider. On top of that, you also have to make sure the reopening plan meets state and local government, public health, and Department of Labor standards.

If you are a small business owner, this article will help you outline the important issues you'll be facing. Before you open back up after a temporary shutdown or natural disaster, know what you'll need to handle. You have obligations that involve state and local law, health organization guidelines, employment lawcontract lawinsurance law, and personal injury liability.

Here are some considerations to take before you open your business doors again.

Know State and Local Laws

It's crucial to understand what is required of your business under state and local law for you to reopen. Business owners who do not follow the law expose themselves to fines from the local government, lawsuits from customers who get hurt if they open too soon, and social media backlash.

Look to state and local government websites for guidance on reopening. This will depend on your industry and why you had to shut down.

Below are some common temporary closure scenarios to consider:

  • Infectious disease outbreak: If you had to shut down due to the coronavirus, a tuberculosis outbreak, or perhaps a mold-related issue, you may have to get approval from your state's Department of Health. Depending on the outbreak, the federal government or your state may also require workers to wear personal protective equipment like face masks. For COVID-related closures, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) requires certain guidelines be met before you reopen.
  • Natural disasters: If you shut down due to a natural disaster, make sure your local county and state allow you to reopen. If your city or county is still in an emergency and only allowing emergency personnel to enter that area, you should be careful not to reopen unless you fall under an exception under your local government's order. Some states may order you to submit a preparedness plan for review.
  • Fire code violations: If the fire marshall closed your small business down due to fire hazards or fire code violations, make sure you correct those violations and pay any fines. You may need to limit your occupant capacity, revise the store layout, or need to remove all soot and debris from the building after a fire. Otherwise, you could find yourself responsible for injuries to employees or customers.
  • Landscaping: If you shut down to handle landscaping around your business, try to avoid leaving open holes in the ground or equipment lying around. Leaving known hazards opens you up to responsibility for injuries to customers and employees.

Construction Project and Renovation Issues

You owe your customers and employees a general duty of care to keep them reasonably safe at your location. Following state and local laws will help your business keep employees and customers safe and limit liability risks.

These risks include tort liability in cases involving customers or employees. If you have construction at your business, it's often best to shut down all access to that area to avoid liability to anyone who gets injured.

If you cannot do that, place signs and barricades saying construction is happening. This puts them on notice to be careful. However, if you reopen and have hard-to-see nails sticking out of the floor, a sign won't likely save you from liability.

Employment Law Issues

If you have employees, you probably have many questions about when to bring them back and how to protect your business from a lawsuit.

Here are some of the most common employment law issues that small business owners need to consider:

  • How to keep work environments safe for employees
  • Whether employees should use masks or PPE on the job
  • What to include in a policy for a natural disaster
  • What to include in a policy for dealing with COVID-19 among employees or their families
  • The legalities of testing employees for COVID-19 or other infectious diseases, such as through temperature checks or testing
  • How unemployment works for employees who choose not to come back to work

OSHA Considerations

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a general duty clause that requires employers to provide employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.

Whether it's an air-born illness or sawdust particles floating in the air from your most recent office remodel, make sure you understand that you cannot put your employees in harm's way or operate without a safety plan.

Physical Return Considerations

Depending on how long your physical building was closed, you may be bringing employees back from unemployment or furlough. You may be allowing employees to return to the office after working remotely, but you aren't a strictly online business.

In any case, the main thing to do to keep employees safe and avoid liability is to follow laws and guidelines.

Update Your Employee Policies and Handbooks

Be sure to update your employee handbook with any changes to policies so that employees know if you have any new policies or restrictions. Be consistent in whatever policies you implement to avoid violating anti-discrimination laws and be conscious of employees' privacy rights. Have your employees sign a form confirming they received the updated handbook, and ensure it includes their emergency contact information.

Contact an employment law attorney in your area for individualized advice about laws and guidance.

Relocating Your Business

Your original lease may have expired during your shutdown. A natural disaster or fire may have destroyed your location. Depending on how long you closed, your business may need a new spot to call home.

Before you sign a new lease or purchase a lot, make sure you read the top ten things to consider when looking for a commercial space.

Maintaining Your Intellectual Property During Shutdown

If you were shut down for so long that your original business is no longer active with your secretary of state, you may have to form a new company. During your shutdown, make sure you continue to stay active on social media with any of your trademarks or intellectual property.

If you can pivot to offer any of your services as an online business, it would help you to keep using the registered mark in commerce. Trademarks must be used non-stop for five years, or you run the risk of losing your protection. If you need to file a Notice of Use (Statement of Use) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, file an extension, even during your closure.

Get an Attorney's Help

You may need legal advice in creating your business' reopening strategy or want another set of eyes on templates you found. You want to make sure that you comply with federal and state law while not exposing your business to liability, whether it stems from the pandemic, curbside pick-up, or temporary closures.

business law attorney or employment law attorney in your area can help guide you and give you detailed information about how to move forward.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you navigate your business's legal and regulatory landscape.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Meet FindLaw's trusted provider of business formation solutions:

Let's start your free LLC!

Get worry-free services and support to launch your business starting at $0 plus state fees

Start My LLC
'You want to get it right. ZenBusiness can help.' Mark Cuban, Spokesperson

The #1 rated service by trusted experts

  • Forbes
  • Market Watch
  • Marc Cuban
  • Nerdwallet
  • Investopedia
Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options