Considerations for Employers: Conflicting Advice from State and Federal Leaders

One month after issuing “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” the first national coronavirus guidelines, President Donald J. Trump and the Federal coronavirus task force on Thursday issued “Guidelines for Opening America Again.”

The Federal guidance is intended as direction to state Governors who must now make decisions on if and win to lift various lockdown and stay-at-home orders that have closed schools, shuttered businesses, and left many wondering what’s next?

In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam recently extended his Executive Order closing entertainment businesses and severely limiting other non-essential retail establishments until May 8, 2020.  His “stay-at-home” order is in effect until June 10.

Employers and businesses may now have to consider how to handle potentially conflicting advice from state and Federal leaders.  Or do they?

Current Virginia Guidance

The Commonwealth of Virginia is under a state of emergency declared by Governor Ralph Northam.

The governor has issued two executive orders, one closing a number of retail businesses and limiting the circumstances under which others can operate, and another ordering state residents to stay home unless conducting ‘essential’ activity. You can read more about those orders here.

New Federal Guidelines

The new Federal guidelines are designed to inform state decisions on reopening as the outbreak subsides.  State governments will still make the decisions, but these guidelines establish broad parameters through which they should make these decisions.

The guidelines establish a gating criteria that includes a decline in a level of influenza activity, a downward trend in the number of confirmed cases, and excess hospital capacity.

When those states meet that criteria, they can proceed into a phased reopening.

Under phase one, individuals will be asked to continue social distancing and limiting the number of people in crowds. Employers will be allowed to reopen in phased shifts, but are encouraged to continue teleworking and asked to close common areas. Schools, large venues, and bars should remain closed.

Under phase two, individuals are asked to continue moderate social distancing and the number of people in crowds will be limited to 50.  Employers will be allowed to bring more people back to work, but common areas will still be closed. Some larger venues will be allowed to operate, and all bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen though with some moderate social distancing guidelines.

Under phase three, individuals are allowed to return to normal activities and employers are allowed to return to normal operations.


On the surface, it may appear that there is conflicting state and Federal advice.  But in reality, the federal guidelines are designed to inform the decisions of state governments – where most of the decisions will be made.

Employers will have to consider first the state orders, but should also consider the federal guidelines as those state orders change.

Employers and businesses not impacted by current executive orders, including professional services, manufacturing, or other non-retail businesses, may already continue to operate though they should continue to consider policies on social distancing, telework, the use of PPE, sanitation and temperature checks.

For specific questions regarding your business, you should consult a Gentry Locke attorney. Gentry Locke’s Government & Regulatory Affairs team is closely monitoring the actions of state and local governments throughout the coronavirus outbreak as part of Gentry Locke’s coronavirus response team. If you have questions about how your business or organization may be affected by state action, please call us at 866.983.0866

Similar Articles