Omicron has exploded in the number of cases, leaving many businesses—including banks—without enough staff to stay open. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has heard the appeal to stay the OSHA vaccination rules. Let’s examine these issues.
The first question is, “Do we have a branch closing or a temporary emergency change?”
Drive-throughs. One possible approach to this issue is to shift customers to the drive-through facility. To be effective, you will need to have adequate signage at the branch, directing customers to use that option. Clarify when the lobby will reopen or your method for communicating the reopening.
If the lobby is temporarily closed but the facility is still functioning through its drive-through, then it is really not “closed.” Rather, it is a temporary change of services. This analysis has been informally confirmed with the Texas Banking Commissioner. Also, the interagency policy statement on branch closing confirms that position (provided that the remaining facility constitutes a branch, which a drive-through does). The Joint Policy Statement on Branch Closings can be found here.
Interruption of Service. If the location does not have a drive-through as an alternative, then we need to look at the exceptions for notice of branch closing under federal and state law. Both provide that a temporary interruption of service caused by an event beyond the bank’s control is not a closure, provided that the bank plans to restore branching services at the site in a timely manner. This exception has been more commonly used for a natural disaster (think hurricanes). However, it works equally well for this pandemic. Although the branch closing notices are not triggered, it would still be appropriate to notify your primary federal regulator and your state regulator, if you have a state charter. This action should be approved by the board, which could be done by conference call with appropriate documentation.
For Texas state-chartered commercial banks, an office or operation may not remain closed for an emergency more than three consecutive days (excluding non-banking days) without the Banking Commissioner’s approval. Immediately contact the Department of Banking with the request to extend the emergency closure. Section 37.002 Tex. Fin. Code does not specify the method for the notice (“any means available”). However, presumably a call followed up by an email would work. Using appropriate signage, redirect customers to other, open facilities. Consider posting such information in a nonthreatening way on your website.
Quarantine. The CDC’s recommendations are NOT a miracle of clarity. They have reduced the period of quarantine to 5 days, based largely on the infection cycle. But, this should also help in getting folks back to work.
OSHA Rule Blocked. SCOTUS has blocked the application of the OSHA rule that would have required large employers to require employees either be vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test. The court has concluded that the applicants are likely to prevail in their attack of the rule. As guessed, the case was decided on a 6 to 3 vote. FYI, the vaccine mandate for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments was upheld on a 5 to 4 vote.