Individuals and businesses throughout Santa Clara County are responsible for complying with County public health orders designed to continue to keep the community safe from COVID-19. For information regarding the applicable rules, please see the County’s “Public Health Orders” webpage and the County’s “Public Health Orders Frequently Asked Questions” webpage, which also links to applicable State guidance documents and regulations.
When the County learns of non-urgent complaints about businesses that have not violated the orders before, the County’s first response is generally to learn about the situation and try to educate the business on how to comply. This may include the issuance of a warning or other appropriate action, but not in every instance. If the business has violated the orders before, refuses to comply once educated, was found to be intentionally violating the orders, or has committed a violation that poses an imminent risk to public health, the County may choose not to issue a warning. It has been the County’s experience that most businesses, once educated about the rules, have complied.
Enforcement of Orders
When businesses do not comply with the order, the County can take several kinds of action to enforce the orders. The County employs several enforcement tools, including warnings and fines (under Urgency Ordinance NS-9.291, enacted August 11, 2020), permit suspension or revocation (in a variety of industries where the County issues permits), and even criminal prosecution (because a health order violation is a misdemeanor). A variety of factors—including the type of violation, the severity of the violation, the immediacy of the public health risk posed by the violation, and whether the business has previously violated the health orders—informs the County’s choice of enforcement tool.
The County’s most frequently used enforcement tool is to issue fines, which Enforcement Officers assess through a document called a Notice of Violation. Consistent with the County’s overall focus on outreach, education, and voluntary compliance, in appropriate cases the Notice of Violation offers a specified “grace period” of up to 72 hours. When a Notice of Violation includes a grace period, a business can avoid the fines altogether if it complies with the grace period and submits a Compliance Statement documenting its compliance. (Businesses can submit compliance statements at www.sccCOVIDconcerns.org.) But if a business does not comply within the grace period—or if the Notice of Violation does not offer a grace period—fines may accrue from the date and time the Enforcement Officer issues the Notice of Violation.
Under the Urgency Ordinance, fines may double each day until they reach the daily maximum of $5,000, which then accrue anew every day until the violation is cured. The County can collect fines through a variety of systems, including by directly billing the business and having the Clerk-Recorder record the fine as a lien on the deed of the property where the violation occurred. This means that property owners, if different from the business owner, may be required to pay those fines.
Beyond the County’s enforcement actions, the State may also enforce State Orders by such actions as making phone calls, sending written communications via email or the postal service, and conducting site visits. State enforcement agencies may include the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of Industrial Relations, and others. The State may also take action on licenses or permits that they issue, such as license suspension.
The County prefers education over enforcement when possible and is eager to help businesses learn about and voluntarily comply with their obligations under the health orders. If a business’s question is not answered by the extensive information available on the County’s COVID-19 website—you can find more information at business guidance and frequently asked questions—the business can contact the County’s COVID-19 Business Call Center at (408) 961-5500 or by submitting a webform.
Anyone can submit a concern about a violation of any of the County public health orders by visiting our website at www.SCCCovidConcerns.org and completing the online form, or by contacting the Business Call Center at (408) 961-5500, which may assist you with entering your concern in the online form with multilingual translation assistance available.
Questions About Notices of Violation or Compliance Agreements?
If you have a concern about a notice of violation you have received, or would like to discuss entering into a compliance agreement to reduce your fines in exchange for a commitment to comply with all public health orders in the future, please send an email to [email protected] or call 408-299-9043.
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