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Is Construction an Essential Business in Florida?

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As we know, during COVID-19 and before reopening began, businesses that are “non-essential” were forced to close.  “Essential” businesses, however, were allowed to continue to operate.

Aren’t We Reopening? Why Does This Matter?

Whether construction is an essential business might seem unimportant at the moment: after all, most states – including Florida – have been reopening non-essential businesses anyway.  There is a chance, though, that COVID-19 will worsen again or that we will experience a second wave of cases.  Because of that chance, it is important to think about whether or not construction is an essential business that will be able to stay open in Florida and elsewhere.

Federal Guidelines, State Restrictions, and Local Restrictions

There is legal guidance on various levels about which businesses are and aren’t essential.  The federal government has issued suggestions.  Each state has issued restrictions, and states also recommend or require that certain businesses are considered essential.  Beyond that, though, local governments have issued further restrictions: many local governments have limited the scope of what counts as an essential business to an even greater extent.

In Florida, on the state government level, essential businesses are those listed in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Executive Order 20-89.  Under that executive order, construction is one type of essential business.  “Open construction sites, irrespective of the type of building,” specifically, are essential.

According to federal guidelines issued in March by the Department of Homeland Security, “construction workers and contractors [were] deemed essential for public works and infrastructure support, commercial facilities, critical manufacturing, and residential/shelter facilities and services.”  Federal guidelines, though, are meant to be guidelines – they aren’t requirements for state and local governments: although the guidelines are supposed to assist state and local governments, state and local governments can make their own rules about which businesses are essential.

Disagreement Between Local Governments

The difficulty for construction in Florida hasn’t stemmed from federal guidelines or state requirements – it has stemmed from local governments. While certain areas have welcomed construction, others have refused to allow any construction at all. These local differences can be found between nearby counties, and they can even be found between towns in the same counties.

Miami-Dade County, for example, was allowing construction operations. Some of the towns and cities within its limits, though, were banning construction operations altogether. The Town of Surfside, a waterfront town in Miami-Dade, is one such town. According to a town commissioner, “‘I care about [the safety of] our families and our neighbors more than I care about construction projects.’” Some other towns in Miami-Dade were trying to limit construction operations.

Broward County

In Fort Lauderdale, construction was essential unless a building was “already occupied,” except for cases of “necessary repair.” While restrictions were in place, 19 construction sites were open.

Construction companies have taken measures to protect their employees and the public. “A group of 30 South Florida construction companies . . . issued a joint resolution . . . pledging to protect workers and the public at work sites.” They pledged to do things like have workers with COVID-19 symptoms stay home from work, sanitize equipment, and have workers maintain physical distance on the job.

If Businesses Close Again, How Will I Know Whether Construction is Essential and Can Continue?

Citizens in every state have wondered whether we’ve been restricting ourselves and our businesses too little or too much to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Regardless of your beliefs, it’s important to know which businesses are essential, because they’re the ones that can operate if restrictions are put into place. If you need guidance about when and how to resume your construction project in the wake of an outbreak, don’t hesitate to contact the Fort Lauderdale construction attorneys at Sweeney Law.

Resources:

sun-sentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-coronavirus-construction-workers-20200410-okgqgbimavghlkz6coi74lryka-story.html

cnn.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-coronavirus-trnd/

https://www.sweeneylawpa.com/appeals-court-affirms-summary-judgment-for-contractor-on-common-law-indemnity-cross-claim/

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