With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, many business owners -- especially retail business owners swamped by holiday shoppers -- may have more important things to do than worry about than the weather.
But when cold weather hits, a little preventative maintenance and forethought can save you from an unwelcome holiday surprise, such as a flooded building or a personal injury lawsuit.
What can you do to (legally) protect your business during a cold snap? Here are three things to keep an eye on:
Keep your pipes from freezing. When water freezes it expands, which can cause pipes in your building to burst, leading to flooding, water damage, destroyed merchandise, and expensive repairs. The American Red Cross recommends closing indoor valves supplying any outdoor hose bibs and keeping the outside valves open, allowing the pipes to drain. The Red Cross also recommends leaving the thermostat set to the same temperature overnight as during the day to prevent indoor pipes from freezing overnight. Pipes that are located in unheated areas should be insulated with pipe sleeves, heat tape, or even just newspaper.
Keep your sidewalk, parking lot, and other areas shoveled and de-iced. Slippery conditions caused by snow and ice can be more than just a pain in the backside for those who take a spill. Failing to properly maintain your premises in a safe manner may lead to a slip-and-fall lawsuit. Although businesses generally have reasonable time to correct hazards following a storm or inclement weather event, staying on top of clearing snow and ice from areas in which customers and pedestrians may walk should be a priority.
Make sure your employees drive safely in company vehicles. Cold weather doesn't just wreak havoc on buildings and sidewalks, but it can also make driving particularly dangerous. If you have employees driving company vehicles or even driving their own vehicles for work-related purposes, be sure that they operate their vehicles safely. You, as the employer, may be held liable for any injuries caused by an employee who is found to have driven negligently.
Find more legal tips for small business owners at FindLaw's section on Small Business Law.