Pennsylvania Health Secretary Orders Employer Safety Measures for Business In-Person Operations

Angella N. Middleton
Published April 17, 2020

On April 15, 2020, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health issued an order directing businesses that are maintaining in-person operations to implement safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the latest in a series of statewide directives since Pennsylvania first declared a Disaster Emergency on March 6, 2020. A subsequent order dated March 19, 2020 mandated that all non-life-sustaining businesses cease in-person operations. Now, under the April 15, 2020 order, businesses that are continuing in-person operations are required to adopt certain protections for workers and customers, including providing masks for employees to wear on business premises, denying entry to customers not wearing a mask, staggering worker schedules to prevent large gatherings, and limiting meetings and trainings to video or phone whenever feasible. The order further directs businesses to take additional steps upon discovery of the business’ exposure to a person who has or probably has COVID-19, including temperature screening before employees enter the premises, and closing off areas visited by the person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19.

The Secretary’s Order, which can be found here, goes into effect at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 19, 2020.

According to the press release announcing the order, failure to comply with the outlined protocols will result in enforcement action such as citations, fines, or license suspension. The press release reiterates that the governor has directed various state agencies, including the Pennsylvania State Police, to enforce orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic to the full extent of the law.

All Businesses: The order requires businesses that are authorized to maintain in-person operations, other than health care providers, to implement the following protocols:

  • Provide masks for employees to wear while at the business or approve masks obtained or made by employees in accordance with Department of Health guidance found here, and require employees to wear masks while at the business (except while eating, drinking or on break);
  • Provide employees access to regular handwashing with soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes;
  • Stagger worker start and stop times to prevent large gatherings and reduce the amount of workers entering or leaving the premises at the same time;
  • Stagger employee break times to promote social distancing of at least 6 feet;
  • Prohibit non-essential visitors from entering the business premises;
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas routinely in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found here, in spaces that are accessible to customers, tenants, or other individuals;
  • Clean common areas (i.e., dining facilities, conference rooms) on a regular basis, including between any shifts;
  • Maintain pre-existing cleaning protocols established by the business for all other areas of the building;
  • Limit persons in employee common areas at any one time to the number that can maintain a distance of 6 feet;
  • Provide sufficient amount of space for employees to have breaks and meals while maintaining a distance of 6 feet, and arrange seating so that workers are facing forward and not across from one another in eating or break areas;
  • Conduct meetings and trainings by phone or video, and if that is not possible, limit in-person meetings to a maximum of 10 attendees maintaining 6 feet social distance;
  • Upon Discovery of Exposure: Establish protocols for additional measures upon discovery that the business has been exposed to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, including:
    • Close off areas visited by the person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19. Open outside doors and windows and use ventilation fans to increase air circulation in the area. Wait a minimum of 24 hours, or as long as practical, before beginning cleaning and disinfection. Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas (i.e., break or conference rooms, dining facilities), shared electronic equipment (i.e., touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, ATM machines) used by the ill person, focusing especially on frequently touched areas;
    • Implement temperature screening before an employee enters the business, prior to the start of each shift or, before the employee starts work if they do not work shifts, and send employees home that have an elevated temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Ensure employees practice social distancing while waiting to have temperatures screened;
    • Identify employees that were in close contact (within about 6 feet for about 10 minutes) with a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 from the period 48 hours before symptom onset to the time at which the patient isolated; and
      • If the employee remains asymptomatic, the person should adhere to the practices set out by the CDC in its April 8, 2020 Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practice for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 found here;
      • If the employee becomes sick during the work day, the person should be sent home immediately. Surfaces in the employee’s workspace should be cleaned and disinfected. Information on other employees who had contact with the ill employee during the time the employee had symptoms and 48 hours prior to symptoms should be compiled. Others at the workplace with close contact within 6 feet of the employee during this time would be considered exposed;
      • Promptly notify employees who were close contacts of any known exposure to COVID-19 at the business premises, consistent with applicable confidentiality laws;
      • Ensure that the business has a sufficient number of employees to perform the above protocols effectively and timely;
    • Employees who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home;
    • Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps and should not return to work until the CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments. Employers are encouraged to implement liberal paid time off for employees who do not return to work as set forth above.

Businesses must ensure their facilities have a sufficient number of employees to effectively perform all the above measures; must ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of personnel to control access, maintain order, and enforce social distancing of at least 6 feet; and ensure that these required procedures are communicated to employees either orally or in writing in their native or preferred language, as well as in English or by a method that allows them to understand.

Businesses That Serve The Public Within a Building or Defined Area: In addition to the above, businesses other than health care providers that engage with the public in a building or defined area are required to adopt the following measures:

  • Schedule handwashing breaks for all employees at least every hour;
  • Require all customers to wear masks while on premises, and deny entry to customers not wearing masks, unless the business is providing medication, medical supplies, or food, in which case the business must provide alternative methods of pick-up or delivery of such goods; however, individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition (including children under the age of 2 years per CDC guidance) may enter the premises and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition;
  • Install shields or other barriers at registers and check-out areas to physically separate cashiers and customers, or take other measures to ensure social distancing of customers from check-out personnel, or close lines to maintain 6 feet social distancing between lines;
  • In businesses with multiple check-out lines, only use every other register or fewer, and after every hour, rotate customers and employees to the previously closed registers and the surrounding area, including credit card machines, following each rotation;
  • Provide delivery or pick-up options to encourage use of online ordering;
  • Where feasible, conduct business with the public by appointment only, and where not feasible, limit occupancy at any given time to reduce crowding and maintain social distance of 6 feet at check-out and counter lines, and place signage throughout each site to mandate social distancing for both customers and employees;
  • Alter business hours as necessary to allow sufficient time to clean and/or restock;
  • For businesses with a continuing in-person customer-facing component, designate a specific time at least once per week for high-risk and elderly persons to use the business;
  • Where carts and handbaskets are available for customers, assign an employee to wipe down carts and handbaskets before they become available to each customer entering the premises.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss how these laws will impact your business, please contact your regular Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP labor and employment attorney.