On May 15, 2020, within days of announcing a requirement that all restaurants would be required to obtain and maintain contact tracing information for patrons, Governor Inslee quickly withdrew this mandate after widespread concerns that such a requirement would violate patron’s privacy rights. Now, the Governor has indicated that it is only a recommendation that restaurants are encouraged to follow.

Although no longer mandatory, why would a restaurant owner still want to comply with the Governor’s recommendation??  The answer is simple – if any patron contracts COVID-19, the restaurant may become the target of litigation which, in the end, could be as crippling to the restaurant as COVID-19 itself.

In litigation, a plaintiff could argue that although no longer mandatory, the Governor’s recommendation established a standard of care for restaurant owners, and, a failure by the restaurant owners to attempt to comply with the recommendation is evidence of negligence.

So, what should a restaurant owner do?

First, follow all of the below dictates from Governor Inslee and the CDC.  In other words, every restaurant should:

  1. Comply with the industry specific guidance;
  2. Require all employees to use a mask while at work and interacting with each other and customers;
  3. Invest in gloves and make employees use them;
  4. Ensure deep cleaning on a regular basis;
  5. Invest in hand sanitizer and have it available at multiple stations within their restaurants; for both employees and customers;
  6. Consider becoming a “reservation only” restaurant for a period of time until the Governor and the CDC announce that they believe that the risk for contraction of COVID-19 has decreased significantly enough to relax these protocols;
  7. If the restaurant cannot become “reservation only” request, in writing, contact information from everyone who enters;
  8. Ensure that your employees are trained in all protocols including protocols seeking voluntary compliance with contact tracing protocols;
  9. Ask your insurer, representatives from L&I  and/or your attorneys to assist in training your; and finally,
  10. Document, document, document everything you to do protect your patrons from COVID -19.

Stay tuned for additional guidance. If you have additional questions, on this or other employment related issues arising in the context of COVID-19, feel free to contact Sheryl J. Willert at SWillert@williamskastner.com.