The immense disruption caused by COVID-19 catapulted our clients into uncharted territory, and from the start our legal and business teams were there to help clients with immediate challenges, and to consider the longer-term impacts on their businesses. Our clients turned to us not only for the quality of advice we offer, but for our ability to deliver that advice efficiently and at scale.
The retail industry in particular was—and remains—under immense pressure as many are considered essential services and never fully shut down amid volatile sales, issues related to frontline workers, and headline-grabbing confrontations over face coverings and social distancing. That’s why client Stephanie Martz, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel of the National Retail Federation (“NRF”), reached out to us to collaborate on what the NRF has dubbed “Operation Open Doors”—an interactive, comprehensive resource for NRF’s members featuring articles, interactive maps, templates, checklists, webinars, conference calls, and working groups staffed by member representatives. To populate Operation Open Doors, the NRF leaned on Seyfarth to provide the legal thought leadership and content to combine with the deep operational and practical expertise of the NRF team and their membership.
Partners Paul Mattingly and Kevin Woolf collaborated with our Lean Solutions and Seyfarth Labs teams, as well as subject matter experts across the Firm, to build out an accessible and comprehensive delivery model for the extensive regulatory content the Seyfarth Task Force was tracking and curating on a daily basis. Additionally, Mattingly and Woolf reached out within Seyfarth to identify the following team leaders for each of the four Operation Open Doors Working Groups: Liability (Mark Johnson), Employment (Chantelle Egan), Health / Safety (Adam Young), and Logistics (Kevin Woolf).
Guided by NRF’s vision of making navigation of an overwhelming volume of information easier for its members, Seyfarth was able to harness the real-time legal analysis produced by the Task Force to create an interactive, state-by-state map detailing the various impacts of state and local orders related to closures, PPE requirements, school closures, etc. Thanks to the collaborative work of Doha Park (SeyfarthLabs) and Robert Troutman (developer at NRF), in less than 24 hours Seyfarth mocked-up a map (the “NRF Map”) to track orders, news reports, press conferences, and tweets to stay on top of a situation that was evolving hourly. And, thanks to the tireless efforts of Cristina Sanchez (Chicago) and Thomas Webster (Chicago), the NRF Map has remained up-to-date throughout the pandemic.
Despite the intense pace of change through the pandemic, the combined team has continued to update the NRF Map each business day at 5pm to provide real-time information to NRF’s members. As the US cautiously re-opens, the Map continues to track phased re-opening orders, new capacity limitations, state training requirements, etc.
To facilitate dialogue on the various issues facing the industry, NRF also launched four Working Groups to provide a forum for its members to share information, ask questions of each other, and engage in thoughtful discussions with other subject matter experts. With the goal of sharing learning among the experts, each Working Group included as many as 100 NRF member representatives. In addition to weekly calls led by the designated Seyfarth subject matter expert, the Working Groups each maintain a listserv for posting questions and sharing experiences. Leveraging both the listserv questions and feedback from a member survey commissioned by NRF, every Monday project manager Mitch Weiss of the Lean Solutions team leads a scrum with the Seyfarth leads to sift through member questions and the latest news reports. The result is an agenda for that week’s Working Group calls. Based on need, NRF and Seyfarth tap their respective networks to bring the most relevant speakers to the NRF members.
Checklists and Content
To augment the NRF Map and the Working Groups, NRF also created an online resource center for members on the Operation Open Doors webpage, with content created and curated jointly by NRF and Seyfarth. The resources include:
Operation Open Doors Checklist, an outline of key topics to consider as retailers seek to reopen.
COVID-19 Logistics, covering access to property, inventory cleaning and management, protocols for soft openings, obtaining cleaning supplies and PPE.
COVID-19 Social Distancing and Safety Issues, for policies surrounding PPE, temperature checks, voluntary testing, social distancing for both employees and customers.
COVID-19 Returning Employees, information on how to bring people back from furlough and layoffs, and surrounding legal issues.
COVID-19 Liability Issues, addressing negligence, workforce laws, state and local laws.
The first phase of Seyfarth and NRF’s partnership was reactive, mirroring the worlds’ reaction to the virus and the cascading series of events that led to necessary shutdowns. As May approached, the collective team pivoted towards a much more proactive approach. Accordingly, the team focused on predictive resources, tackling “what’s next” issues, and continued to help the industry balance sensitive liability risks around mask enforcement, consumer safety, and the potential for crimes. While the pace and substance of information continues to evolve, Stephanie, the NRF, and Seyfarth still have one goal in mind—to provide resources to the retail industry, and the larger world, to help them emerge safer and stronger.