October of 2022 set records for warm weather across British Columbia. Then all of a sudden the switch flipped as the Lower Mainland was hit with the earliest measurable snowfall in over three decades. It was also the snowiest November 8th since 1945. As a result, BC businesses are on high alert, and anticipating more impactful weather to come for the winter of 2022-23.
Many are rightfully scrambling to secure business interruption insurance to cover certain weather event scenarios. However, there is one pressing question that weighs as heavy on the mind as a 48-inch snowpack – when should a business close for weather?
While it may be tempting to figuratively (and literally) weather the storm for the sake of revenue, there is liability risk in staying open. Unless there’s a municipal order, businesses are left to their own conscience when deciding upon what to do. Below is a breakdown of key questions to consider when it comes to staying open amidst extreme winter weather in BC.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Determining Whether or Not Your BC Business Should Remain Open During Harsh Winter Weather
I. Are Customers at Risk?
It may seem as if the responsibility falls upon the customer, given that they are the ones who decided to head out into harsh weather in search of a product/service. But as soon as they walk up to your establishment you take on your own responsibility. If weather (ice, sleet, snow) has made the pathway to your door a hazard, and you have not stayed on top of your duty to keep them free from harm (ongoing icing, shoveling, and scraping) they are at risk. Moreover, if adjacent businesses are closed, your liability risk increases even further. After all, who else can shoppers blame for the slip and fall but you? And even if they make it in unscathed, other customers and staff will have dragged bad weather in with them from the bottom of their boots. You would need to keep a mop, broom, and “wet floor” signage in rotation through every minute of your hours-of-operation. Are you prepared to be as diligent as required?
Some businesses take it even further, and jump on social media to exclaim to prospective customers that they are remaining open no matter what. They see it as being competitively savvy, but all that they’re doing is inviting customers into a risky situation. If injury ensues, the business could theoretically be held liable if it can be proven that they encouraged customers to come to their property amidst dangerous weather. While such a claim may not be successful, the cost of fighting it in court would not justify the small bit of revenue made by staying open.
If it’s reasonably foreseeable that customers are at risk, on or near your property, by staying open during bad weather, shut down for the day and wait it out with the rest of us.
II. Are Employees Put at Risk?
One thing that the events of 2020 to 2021.5 taught businesses, is that employees should not be persuaded to come to work if they don’t feel safe.
By now, most offices have infrastructure in place to allow staff to work from home. If you see a red alert on the Weather Network within 12-24 hours of office hours, let staff know that they can work remotely until it passes. Retailers and services that need customers/clients to come into a physical location to conduct business have more to consider. While the commercial district may remain open for business, it may be unsafe for certain employees to drive or bike to work during extreme weather. Be considerate of this fact, and let them know you understand. If they feel as if they will be sanctioned or outright terminated by refusing to come despite treacherous roads, they may attempt to file a claim against you, should they be injured.
III. Does Being Open Put Other Businesses at Risk?
In rare (but possible) cases, refusing to close amidst harsh weather could put adjacent businesses at risk. if damage or loss (to them) ensures, you could be held liable.
This could happen to a business who shares a space with another. Need an example? The ride and home sharing concept has spilled over into the retail sector. It is known as co-retailing or retail space sharing. If involved in a co-retailer relationship, and you open for business when other/s have opted to stay closed, you take on responsibility for damage, loss, and injury that may occur on the premises. Shared businesses may have reasonable cause to file a claim against you as a result. Another basic example, applies when a storefront shares an outdoor shutter. The shutter is in place to protect against extreme winds and so forth. If you open for business despite warning signs, and their exterior is compromised because you lifted the shutter, they may attempt to file a claim against you.
If being open while others are closed puts others at risk, reconsider your decision. It could save them from damage, loss, and injury, and can save you from a liability claim.