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What are the Penalties for Illegally Opening a Business in LA During COVID-19?

Criminal Defense Attorney As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the shores of the United States, nearly every local and state government began putting emergency orders in place which forced non-essential businesses to close their doors to the public. Now that we are several months into the closures, some business owners are thinking about opening their stores even if they are not allowed to.

However, opening a business in Los Angeles in violation of the Safer LA order is a misdemeanor and carries these penalties:

  • A fine of up to $1000
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • Or, both a fine and prison time
  • The business’ water and electric utilities may be shut off by the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety

Additionally, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services has established that penalties and fines may also be accrued from the California divisions of:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA)
  • The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC)
  • The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA)
  • The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement

Fines from these regulatory boards vary depending on the type and severity of the related offense and may be as high as $20,000 or more.

While that is a summary of the potential penalties, the emergency orders themselves can be somewhat confusing. We’ll explain them more in detail below.

However, if you are currently facing charges related to illegally opening your business during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should contact us immediately at 323-655-5700 so we can discuss the details of your case for free. Now more than ever, you need an experienced and trusted LA criminal defense attorney. William Kroger and the rest of our legal team here have a proven track record and are your best option for a successful defense.

What Businesses are Considered Essential in LA?

The nationwide emergency orders specify certain businesses that are allowed to operate during the crisis, and the SAFER LA order is no different. Under the SAFER LA order, essential businesses in LA are allowed to operate, including:

  • Auto repair shops
  • Grocery stores, produce stands, convenience stores, and other similar stores
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Restaurants, but only for delivery, carryout, or outdoor seating
  • Agricultural operations, such as farming, livestock, and fishing
  • Gas stations
  • Hardware supply shops
  • Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other trade work

That is only a small number of the full amount of businesses and services which are considered essential. Refer to §5.7(vii) of Mayor Garcetti’s SAFER L.A. orderfor a complete list of essential businesses.

Remember that if you are allowed to operate, you still need to obey the established safety protocols or you may receive fines from regulatory boards like OSHA.

What Penalties Could I Face If I Open My Business Illegally During COVID-19?

Since the penalties and punishments could come from multiple sources, we’ve broken them down into sections to better help you understand.

Primary Legal Penalties

While there are no penalties specifically related to COVID-19, there are penalties related to violating emergency orders, such as the SAFER LA order.

Pursuant to both §8865 in the California Government Code and §8.77 of the Los Angeles Charter, if you open your business illegally in violation of the SAFER LA order, you could receive:

  • $1000 in fines
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • Or, both fines and prison time

A related charge could potentially come from §8.78 of the Los Angeles Charter, which defines the punishments for violating a curfew imposed by an emergency order. If there is a curfew active in LA, or wherever your business operates, and you stay open past curfew, then you could face:

  • $1000 in fines
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • Both fines and prison time

This charge is less common, but you should still be aware.

OSHA Penalties

Due to the danger to the health and safety of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has also been authorized to hand out penalties for safety violations related to COVID-19. They have already begun delivering fines to businesses across the nation, often more than several thousand dollars.

One of the primary violations which you may face for opening your business illegally during COVID-19 is a violation of §5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970, which is often called the “General Duty Clause.” It states:

  • “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;”

OSHA regulations serve to protect the health and safety of workers. If you include any employees while conducting business illegally in Los Angeles against the SAFER LA order, you could receive a minimum fine of $5000 up to $70,000 per employee, as laid out by §17(a) of the OSH Act.

Other Penalties

In addition to any OSHA fines, you could also receive fines from other agencies. The California Governor’s Office has authorized these agencies to enforce the emergency orders:

  • The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC)
  • The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA)
  • The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement

While OSHA is handing out most of the fines, you could still be eligible to receive them from the above agencies should they decide it necessary.

Legal Charges for Opening Your Business: How We Can Help

This is a confusing and challenging time for everyone. Being faced with charges for opening your business illegally to try and make a living only adds more stress and burden.

We understand the serious impact these charges can have on your business and your life during this pandemic. If you are currently being faced with charges for violating the emergency order, we urge you to call us at 323-655-5700 as soon as possible for a free consultation. Our legal team here has a long track record for successful defenses, and William Kroger is a trusted LA criminal defense attorney with decades of experience.

The sooner you get in touch with us, the sooner we can begin preparing your defense against these charges.

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