Restoration contractors are doing some seriously hard, important work as businesses, hospitals, schools and other venues open back up following coronavirus-related closures.
Cleaning up after a pandemic may be a new aspect of your business. That doesn’t mean you can’t apply your knowledge and expertise to care for new and returning customers who need help managing the risks associated with the novel coronavirus.
There are risks for customers AND risks for you.
While your customers (and potential customers) begin to re-open and sort out the risks associated with coronavirus for their companies, you need to consider your risks as well. The CDC offers useful guidelines for re-opening, but what about your own liability as an essential business that is making the world safer?
First, there are physical risks to your staff. The coronavirus situation is different from state to state and municipality to municipality. There are some things proving to be true everywhere:
- Coronavirus is a serious contagious disease that is responsible for over a million cases and 80,000 deaths in the United States (as of May 12, 2020).
- Coronavirus has caused massive shutdowns throughout the world, affecting nearly every industry.
- People’s normal behavior has been affected by this disease. They are being more cautious about travel, social interaction and things that just a few months ago were considered normal.
You already understand this, but it is worth emphasizing: Restoration contractors must protect their staff from contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
This means staying up to date with the latest scientific knowledge about the virus, acquiring and using PPE in every situation, and training your staff on how to protect themselves.
That said, not all risks are physical.
Even though the physical risk to your employees is likely the most pressing issue you are facing, restoration contractors need to be aware of some of the legal risks that they are facing as well.
Imagine this scenario:
A restoration contractor advertises its coronavirus clean-up services, explaining in detail how they will clean, sanitize and disinfect the environments where they are hired using PPE and best practices. A client where there has been a breakout of the virus contacts the contractor and they hire them. The services are provided and, sometime after, someone who works for the client becomes ill from coronavirus.
The employee might have gotten it from work, or they might have gotten it from the store or from a doctor’s appointment. However, all the client has to do is take the restoration contractor to civil court, where they don’t have to prove something scientifically. They just have to prove the possibility and likelihood of how something happened.
That means that the client’s lawyer can look back at the advertising and marketing and say, “This contractor told us that they would clean and disinfect all surfaces. The dictionary defines ‘disinfect’ as ‘clean to destroy all bacteria.’ But bacteria and germs must have been left on the surfaces because our worker got sick.”
At this point, the client can make three different claims against the contractor: 1) breach of contract, 2) misrepresentation of services and 3) negligence.
This is the last situation that any contractor wants to face. The good news is that this kind of litigation is avoidable.
How to manage liability in the era of coronavirus cleanup.
In a recent webinar with Ed Cross, “The Restoration Lawyer,” we learned about the best ways that restoration contractors can protect themselves from litigation related to their coronavirus marketing. He explained that “coronavirus cleanup is really a legal minefield for restoration contractors,” and it is important to avoid marketing mistakes that can get you into trouble later.
These are some key takeaways that you can apply to your own practices to protect yourself:
Focus on actions, not results.
If you say that you are going to disinfect a surface, that means you are successfully removing contaminants and bacteria. We are not at a place where we know enough about the novel coronavirus to make that claim. Therefore, you should focus on what actions you are going to take instead of what results you can promise.
Cross says, “It’s safer to say you’re going to wipe a surface as opposed to clean the surface. It’s safer to say you’re going to apply disinfectant as opposed to actually disinfecting. Those are two separate concepts.” Use the one that you can defend in a court of law.
Use manufacturer labels when describing products.
Often, when marketing a service, marketing and sales teams will elaborate on the products their company uses. This isn’t about misleading people, but rather, it is about providing plenty of detail in easy-to-understand language. However, for now, this process should be avoided.
Use the manufacturer’s labels to directly quote how the product is used and how effective it is. Don’t elaborate or describe the capabilities in your own words. Doing so may cause you to miss the nuances that are a part of the manufacturer’s descriptions.
Run everything by your legal team.
Even if you could normally run a blog post, social media post or website page without getting legal input, that is something to avoid when writing about coronavirus. Instead you should run everything past your liability legal team and an environmental consultant. This will ensure that you steer clear of any legal issues that could arise later.
Use careful language in your contracts.
Cross recommends using “coronavirus service contracts” instead of “coronavirus clean-up contracts” or other results-driven labels. This will ensure that you can provide exactly what you are promising rather than promising something that you can’t provide.
This is going to change your usual marketing strategies.
All of these things combined likely will create some changes in your normal marketing routines. Even though you may be tempted to use SEO-friendly terms like “COVID-19 sanitization” and “coronavirus decontamination,” a better strategy will be to use caution, provide clear information to your leads and clients, and ensure that you have good legal representation giving you advice as you go.
If you have questions, we encourage you to get in touch with us at Three65 Marketing! We help the restoration industry market their services, and we care about helping you figure out ways to do your important job without opening the door to expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.