Under lockdown for the past three months, millions of small businesses have fallen victim to COVID-19-induced bankruptcy, and millions more Californians have lost their jobs or been furloughed. Sustainable for a time, the cost of the necessary health precautions is now beginning to outweigh the benefits, especially as individuals become acclimated with how to responsibly leave their homes and businesses implement appropriate social distancing and other safety measures.

Though California is moving more slowly than most states, it is encouraging to see a path forward for restarting the country’s largest economy. There also appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for eventually returning to at least some form of normalcy. Before we get there, however, it is important that businesses and their employees are aware of exactly what is at stake when operations resume—even with face masks, six feet of space, and plenty of plexiglass dividers.

Recently, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order shifting the burden of proof for contracting COVID-19 at work from employees to their employers. Although a similar order was recently overturned in Illinois, this is still the new status quo in our state, and it has several major implications for both companies and their workers.

For starters, this virus is ever evolving and proven difficult to contain. There will unfortunately be illnesses contracted in the workplace; it is simply unavoidable. Businesses must understand this and be as prepared as possible to respond appropriately. Unfortunately, if a lawsuit were to arise, many of California’s thousands of small businesses simply do not have an ability to pay substantial legal fees or offer settlements that allow them to remain afloat, so they must rely on the responsibility of their workforce and do what they can do avoid this scenario.

Next, employees must understand that the onus is still on all of us to look out for ourselves and one another by abiding by all recommended safety precautions put forward by California’s Department of Public Health and our own employers. This includes travel and any contact with other individuals that could put us or our colleagues at risk.

In the end, it is unfortunate that our state has taken a misguided approach to health policy that could ultimately shut down additional businesses and leave thousands more unemployed in an already battered economy. There are no winners in a scenario where a lawsuit bankrupts a business, costing the jobs of the entire workforce. All we can do now is work with each other and our various employers to be responsible and ensure that doesn’t happen.

Businesses—protect yourselves. Take every recommended precaution and then some. Extend work-from-home policies if possible. Our resilient companies are used to private-sector hurdles, and we are innovators because of it. Do what you can and prepare for the worst.

Employees—understand your employers are doing everything in their power to keep you and your colleagues as safe as possible, while also resuming operations and serving customers. This is the only way anyone can remain in business and continue providing jobs for the millions of private sector employees in our great state. Small businesses are most vulnerable in this situation and need our help. Most cannot afford expensive lawsuits, and such actions risk unemployment for even more hardworking Californians if more businesses fail.

Our state needs to pivot away from penalizing businesses and turn to supporting our communities. We cannot afford more business failures and unemployment at this critical juncture. It is on all of us, employees and employers, to work together to ensure that we all land on our feet when this is over and look out for one another. It is my hope that our lawmakers in Sacramento see these harmful policies as backwards and reverse course. But if that never happens, I know that Californians will do what we have always done—collaborate and innovate to get through this together.


Jack Frost is the President of Pro Small Biz CA and the Executive Director of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association. For questions or feedback, please contact Jack directly at jackfrost@prosmallbizca.org.