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Go Home, Dallas: County Enacts “Shelter in Place” Order in Wake of Pandemic

On March 22, 2020, the Chief Executive Officer of Dallas County, Texas (County Judge Clay Jenkins) issued a “Stay Home Stay Safe” order for residents of Dallas County.  The Order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on March 23 and continues until midnight on April 3rd.

The major effect of the Order is to prohibit Dallas County residents from leaving their residence (which includes homes, hotels, motels, shared rentals and similar facilities) unless they are engaging in an activity (an “Essential Activity”) or a purpose (working for an “Essential Business”) allowed by the Order.  Moreover, all public or private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or living unit are specifically prohibited.  And, the Order prohibits all elective medical, surgical, and dental procedures in Dallas County.

Additionally, all businesses operating within Dallas County are required to cease all activities at facilities located within the County, unless the business is an “Essential Business.”  Importantly, however, even non-essential businesses are permitted to continue operations so long as those operations are conducted by employees or contractors performing activities at their own residences (i.e. working from home).

The Order creates specific rules for households where a person has tested positive for COVID-19.  In particular, if someone in a household has tested positive, the entire household must isolate at home; they cannot go to work, school, or any other community function.

While at first blush the Order appears restrictive, the reality is that it allows for numerous and diverse exceptions across a variety of commercial operations.  By way of example, “dry cleaners” and “liquor stores” are considered “Essential” and, therefore, are allowed to remain open during the restricted period.  The Order also allows individuals to use “shared or outdoor spaces” so long as—to the extent reasonably possible—they engage in social distancing practices; including staying at least six feet from any other person while outside their Residence.

Individuals may leave their residences only in the following instances:

  • For purposes of performing Essential Activities; or

  • To operate one of eight categories of Essential Businesses.

The above terms—and the numerous exceptions contained within—are more fully explained via the chart below:The Order also addresses the current run on toilet tissue.  On that issue, the Order institutes a two-week restriction on the purchase of toilet tissue that limits sales to a greater of (12) rolls or (1) package per purchase. Notably, the Order contemplates that—as part of the current pandemic—businesses may retool their operations so as to produce ventilators.  Consequently, a company may apply for an “Essential Business” exemption under the Order if that business has sufficiently modified its operations so that a “substantial part” of its business  comprises the manufacturing of ventilators.

The Order provides no further guidance to employers regarding other developing issues such as WARN Act notices, sick leave, or the newly enacted federal Families First Coronavirus Act.  Employers are encouraged to reach out to their Sheppard Mullin attorney with questions or for further information and guidance on these developing issues.

As you are aware, things are changing quickly and there is no clear-cut authority or bright line rules.  This is not an unequivocal statement of the law, but instead represents our best interpretation of where things currently stand.  This blog post does not address the potential impacts of the numerous other local, state and federal orders that have been issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including, without limitation, potential liability should an employee become ill, requirements regarding family leave, sick pay and other issues.

Copyright © 2020, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 83


About this Author

Stephen Fox, Sheppard Mullin Law Firm, Dallas, Labor and Employment Litigation Attorney

Stephen E. Fox is a partner in the firm's Labor and Employment and Business Trials Practice Groups and co-managing partner of the firm's Dallas office.

Areas of Practice

Stephen Fox has spent more than 25 years in boardrooms and courtrooms acting as a trusted advisor and litigation advocate for clients—from Fortune 500 corporations to entrepreneurs—in complicated and often high-profile business and employment disputes. Consistently recognized by peers and clients...

Jonathan Clark, Sheppard Mullin Law Firm, Dallas, Labor and Employment Litigation Attorney

Jonathan E. Clark is an associate in the Labor and Employment Practice Group in the firm's Dallas office.

Areas of Practice

Jonathan Clark knows that no two cases are the same and that the key to effective representation is found through personal commitment and business insight into each matter he handles. Jonathan believes that the best way to accomplish this is with a deep and thorough understanding of the facts and circumstances surrounding each client’s case, and of the impact the case can have on the client’s overall business performance and goals. This approach allows him to craft effective strategies throughout the litigation process that meet each client’s needs. His experience and insight related to complex commercial and labor and employment litigation can provide value to clients involved in any stage of the litigation process, including case management, complex discovery, motion practice, depositions, hearings, and trials.

Jonathan has litigated on behalf of employers in both state and federal court, and in jurisdictions across the country. His representation has included both single-plaintiff and class-action cases. Additionally, Jonathan understands the value of alternative dispute resolution; and has achieved positive results for clients in mediation and arbitration proceedings. Moreover, he knows that very often, the best client results come from preventing litigation altogether. With this in mind, Jonathan often counsels employers in such crucial areas as employee-handbook development and workplace policies and procedures, and he has overseen highly-sensitive internal workplace investigations.