On March 30, 2020, Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands Albert Bryan Jr. issued an executive order extending both the previously declared State of Emergency through May 12, 2020, and the territory-wide “stay at home” order through April 30, 2020. The executive order includes several provisions that impact businesses with operations in the Virgin Islands.
Restrictions on Non-Essential Business Operations
Pursuant to an executive order issued on March 23, 2020, all non-essential business operations in the Virgin Islands were required to cease in-person operations and require their employees to remain home until April 6, 2020. The order also barred hotels and lodging facilities from accepting new guests for 30 days. The March 30 order extends both provisions until April 30, 2020.
The March 23 order included exemptions for (1) businesses that sell food or produce (except that restaurants were permitted to operate only on a “drive-through,” “take-out,” or “delivery” basis); (2) businesses with medical purposes, (3) core life services; (4) businesses and entities that provide shelter (including homeless shelters and facilities providing child care services that enable employees of exempt businesses to work); and (5) media outlets. “Core life services” were defined to include the following:
- Gas stations, and auto-supply, and auto-repair stations
- Banks and credit unions
- Hardware stores and building supplies
- Coin-operated laundromats, and laundry service providers
- Refineries, utilities, distilleries, construction sites, plumbers, electricians, custodial/janitorial workers, handyman services, funeral home workers and morticians, carpenters, landscapers, gardeners, property managers, private security personnel, and other service providers who provide services to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation to properties and other essential businesses
- Businesses that supply office or computer products needed by people who work from home
- Businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate
- Businesses that ship, truck, provide logistical support or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences, essential businesses, healthcare operations, essential infrastructure
- Airlines, taxis and safaris (provided that taxis and safaris could operate at no more than one-half of their capacity), and other private transportation providers providing transportation services necessary for activities of daily living
- Businesses that provide parts and services for essential infrastructure
The March 30 order expands the definition of “core life services” to include “professional services, such as legal services, accounting services and insurance companies when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities.”
Although exempt businesses may continue to operate, the March 23 order encouraged such businesses to allow “any employees able to perform their functions remotely or from home” and “to reduce the number of employees in contact with each other by establishing shifts.”
Temporary Suspension of the Plant Closing Act
The March 30 order also suspends the provisions of the Virgin Islands Plant Closing Act (VIPCA) for a period of 120 days, or until further order of the governor. In a March 22, 2020, press conference, Governor Bryan announced the requirement of businesses to file for plant closure was suspended.
Notwithstanding the suspension of the VIPCA, “all employers closing their businesses, either temporarily or otherwise, are required to provide written notice of the closing of the business to the Virgin Islands Department of Labor.” The executive order does not specify the timing or contents of the required notice, but on March 19, 2020, the Department of Labor issued a press release advising employers to provide a letter to the Office of the Commissioner identifying the affected employees in advance of any discharge or layoff. The press release also stated that this information should be provided for any reduction of hours to 20 hours per week.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Critical information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.