Part 1: Legal

by Irina Gelfand

In the face of a global pandemic, your company’s or event’s operations will shift a little, right? Right. COVID-19 hit, and the world shifted for everyone. Restaurants had to rethink capacity, operations, curbside pick-up, outdoor areas and seating arrangements. CDC guidance mandated 6 feet of social distancing and provided guidelines on safety measures such as wearing masks where social distancing is not feasible and hand sanitizing as good practice. Theaters had to rethink their operations, closing down and just now emerging again with outdoor drive-in movies and concerts, in some cases.  In all the changes and revisions, one thing became glaringly evident: events and operations as we knew them pre-COVID-19 were a relic of the past and, in order to survive in the present and thrive in the future, changes needed to be made.

What does that mean exactly for live events like 5K runs, bike rides, obstacle courses, festivals and other large gatherings? This is the million-dollar question for our industry and answering it means the difference between your organization surviving or closing its doors. After months of stay at home orders, sheltering at home and restrictions on gatherings of 10 or 50+ people (depending on your jurisdiction) perhaps you’re wondering what kind of changes you need to make from a legal and accounting standpoint to safely pivot and shift operations. This article is meant to offer some suggestions; it does not offer any legal opinions or guidance on specific safety issues that should be discussed with a lawyer, accountant or other risk representative.

From a legal perspective, consider the following changes as you are thinking about where to go from here with your event production and operations:

  1. Consider local jurisdictional guidelines and mandates. Some areas allow for gatherings of 10 people. Some allow for 50. Some areas even allow gatherings up to 250 with safety measures in place. Be sure to check with your local jurisdiction when making decisions regarding the size of your event. Be cognizant that in today’s atmosphere, smaller is better. A smaller group size mitigates risk that some of your participants may get sick on event.
  2. Provide protective equipment and safety measures for staff, participants and volunteers on event. Such protective equipment and measures include, but are not limited to: masks, face shields, hand sanitizing stations, gloves (whether that is medical gloves or work gloves). Provide personal water bottles rather than handing out water glasses. Consider limiting areas where people can congregate and provide 6 feet of social distancing in any festival areas you may have.
  3. Think about shifting to a fully virtual event rather than a traditional in-person live event. Let people participate via Zoom or other electronic method. Connect with your constituents via computer rather than in person.
  4. In all cases, whether doing a virtual or in-person event, update your waivers to specifically include COVID-19 or other infectious diseases. Let people specifically release you from any liability for COVID-19 if they get sick on event or suffer any medical issues.
  5. When drafting contracts with vendors, partners, sponsors…etc., make sure that your Force Majeure clause allows you to cancel or postpone the event due to COVID-19 and allows you to get your deposits back (or transferred to a future event).

Next week, we’ll address the accounting considerations that need to be made in the face of a pivot.

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