Savvy General Counsels Should Consider Key Public Health Ideas When Advising on Business Reopenings

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, general counsels and members of human resources departments have had to advise business owners on how to mitigate the damage of the pandemic. These professionals have had to do this without public health expertise and without jeopardizing the well-being of employees or their business’ bottom line. That seems a tall order indeed!

From handling real estate assets to addressing a global health crisis, GCs work diligently to provide valuable insight into what businesses must do to survive. As more businesses begin to reopen, general counsels will also need to be cognizant of public health concepts as they continue to offer business, regulatory, and legal guidance. The pandemic has offered numerous lessons on the future of business, and the importance of public health is a critical one for general counsels to consider.

Seeking Outside Expertise

Because the post-pandemic business world features new technology, heightened health concerns, and the complex navigation of specialized contracts (formed during the pandemic and often with unique terms — who knew that those force majeure clauses we always thought were overkill would someday be completely relevant?!), it is important that general counsels seek outside expertise, especially from law firms and public health experts, to ensure the business and its employees can thrive in the wake of the pandemic’s widespread impact.

Checking Regulatory Guidance

Understanding guidance from a business’s own regulators can be key to advising on an effective business reopening. For instance, if the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suggests regulated businesses resume in-person work as soon as possible for compliance reasons, a financial services GC might take an aggressive approach to returning to the office.

Prioritizing Public Health in Business

Prioritizing public health is therefore productive and profitable, so general counsels who advise business executives in a way that promotes public health will help guide the workforce towards a healthier, stronger future. What these initiatives look like may vary depending on the business and its resources. Taking a vested interest in community health, meaning not only the health of employees at work, but what’s happening with employees in their communities and what they bring to work, will certainly prove to be a business-sustaining and ultimately profitable endeavor.

Using Data to Keep the Workforce and Community Safe

GCs should recognize the role of data and technology in promoting better business achievements as well as workforce health and safety. Some businesses, for example, will benefit from the integration of digital monitoring practices that track public health and workforce metrics (such as injuries, healthcare and housing access, and disease exposure), which business owners can document and analyze over time. A GCs role in managing this type of data is extremely important — balancing different data privacy laws with the business’s interest in using this data with employee health and safety. These analyses will grant businesses insight into how they can improve their practices, as well as improving the wellness of their workforces and their communities.

As the business world gradually begins to open up again, it’s important that GCs and business owners collaborate on how to prioritize community health and workforce safety.

This was originally published on on August 9, 2021.

Meredith Ann Simmons is an experienced business management and legal advice counsel.