NEW: Maryland Governor Issues “Stay-at-Home” Order; Auto Dealerships May Stay Open, But Proceed with Caution
“Essential” businesses, which include auto and truck dealerships and other businesses identified as part of the Federal critical infrastructure, may continue to remain open with scaled-down operations. “Non-essential” businesses must remain closed indefinitely, as Hogan previously ordered on March 23.
Earlier in March, Gov. Hogan’s Office of Legal Counsel provided a “non-exhaustive” list of essential businesses that are not required to close during the pandemic. The Guidance originally identified automotive repair and maintenance facilities, “lessors of transportation assets,” and automotive part suppliers as essential businesses within the “transportation systems sector” that are allowed to stay open, but did not specifically identify vehicle sales as an essential function. The Guidance was later amended to add “auto and truck dealerships” as “essential” businesses.
The March 30 Order does not change what businesses are deemed essential or non-essential. Thus, auto dealerships, including sales and service facilities, are still considered “essential” businesses that may stay open for the time being. But, according to Gov. Hogan, even essential businesses such as these must nonetheless “make every effort to scale down their operations in order to reduce the number of required staff, to limit interactions with customers, and to institute telework for as much of the workforce as is practical.” Though Maryland dealers are not required to close their showrooms to the general public, local dealers’ associations say that consideration should be given to doing so and shifting to an appointment-based, online, or telephone sales model given the severity of the pandemic. Service and parts departments, however, can remain open subject to social distancing guidelines.
Under Gov. Hogan’s latest measure, owners and employees of Maryland auto dealerships and repair facilities are explicitly allowed to travel to and from their places of work, as well as to and from customers in order to deliver goods and perform services. Though not required, Maryland dealers that remain open (to any degree) should consider providing documentation to their employees, which, according to Hogan’s Office of Legal Counsel, “will help [them] establish their need to travel if challenged.” Suggested content for the letter is available here.
Dealerships that remain open (to any degree) should, of course, continue to adhere to CDC and Maryland Department of Health guidelines for COVID-19 and prevent groups of 10 or more from congregating in one location. Routine sanitization policies should be implemented and adhered to in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
In addition to the closure Order, Gov. Hogan announced last month a number of financial assistance programs for eligible small businesses. Among other measures announced on March 23, businesses with under 50 full- and part-time employees may be eligible to receive loans of up to $50,000 to help with payroll, rent, and other fixed costs during this time.