Managing Your Interior Design Business During Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses around the globe, but interior designers, whose work involves traveling to installations and interfacing with clients, face particular obstacles. The demands of coordinating with clients and vendors across the country—in addition to managing employees in the office—are challenging under normal circumstances; with Covid-19, they’re even more so. Still, with the right guidance, you can forge ahead and run your business safely.

We frequently work with interior designers, and in our experience, the most pressing issues that they face fall into two broad categories: Complying with state mandates for operating a workplace; and following the correct protocols when traveling to site visits and working with third parties. In this post, we outline some of the major issues to be aware of, so you can stay in compliance and create a safe environment for yourself and the people you work with.

State Employee Regulations: Operating a Safe Workplace

In order for a business to reopen, some states require regulatory compliance.  For instance, New York state requires that employers draft a “Reopening Safety Plan.” Creating the plan requires making a variety of decisions about how you’ll handle workplace social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, travel protocols, and overall health and safety concerns. Although there’s no need to submit the plan for approval, you do need to keep it on hand in case health authorities conduct an inspection of your workplace. All businesses, including those designated as essential, must draft a Reopening Safety Plan.

The safety plan template illustrates the general requirements that business owners must meet. Employees must remain six feet apart whenever possible and wear masks when that distance isn’t possible. Business owners must post signs and markings to denote six-foot spacing in areas where employees congregate, limit in-person meetings, and designate an area for pickups and deliveries. Employers must also provide employees with face coverings, maintain hand washing stations or provide hand sanitizer, and regularly clean the workplace and keep a record of those cleanings. The specific protocols required vary depending on the business. Make sure you look up those requirements on the New York Forward website and address them in your Reopening Safety Plan before working in your office.

Traveling and Site Visits During Covid

Interior designers frequently travel the country for installations, and Covid-19 adds an additional layer of complexity to already challenging logistical scenarios. Again, using New York as an example, since late June New York has required people who have spent over 24 hours in states with serious Covid-19 outbreaks (see the list of states here) to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning. Other states, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts, also require visitors to self-quarantine depending on where they arrived from.

Keep in mind that traveling out of state may necessitate a quarantine for you and your employees when you return home, and if your travels take you to multiple states, you may be legally required to quarantine during your trip. Make sure to check the quarantine requirements for every state you visit before you travel.

Although these requirements can be onerous, from both a safety and a legal standpoint, it’s important to follow them. Running afoul of Covid-19 regulations can result in fines, but more concerningly, you could be found negligent in court for failing to comply. For example, if you were to get sick, and someone you had been in contact with also got sick, you could be held financially liable. In addition, ignoring Covid-19 regulations can lead to serious reputational damage for you and your business.

Working With Clients and Vendors

When working with clients, contractors, and vendors, it’s vital to understand your responsibilities regarding workplace safety. We advise our interior design clients to approach this topic in terms of control versus non-control—in other words, who they’re responsible for and who they’re not.

Employees are clearly under a business owner’s control. We advise clients to require employees to fill out a “Covid Certification” before starting work. This is a pre-written acknowledgement from the employee that they have no reason to believe they are infected or were recently in contact with an infected person. Employees should submit a Covid Certification every time they come to work or perform any off-site company business.

Installers and other vendors that you have contracted with also fall under your control. In our view, you should treat them as you would your own employees and have them provide a Covid Certification before entering any client site, office, warehouse, or storage facility associated with your business.

In general, you are responsible for the people that you contract with. If your client hires someone (a general contractor, for example), we consider that person to be under your client’s control, not yours. If, on the other hand, you hired the general contractor on behalf of your client, then that person would be under your control. In that case, you’ll want to require a Covid Certification from them before they begin working.

In light of the various state and local regulations, particularly when coupled with issues of control specific to each designer and client site, it is a good idea to work closely with legal counsel to develop a replicable plan which address both required compliance issues, as well as liability and reputational concerns.

Seth has over 20 years of experience, as an attorney practicing at international law firms and as in-house counsel to an international private equity firm. Seth has advised on, structured and executed commercial transactions throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, both as a legal practitioner as well as an equity and debt holder.
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