Last Updated: April 25, 2020
Philadelphia is tentatively on track to enter the “green phase” of reopening in early July which allows for the further reopening of some businesses and lessening on some restrictions. However, entering the green phase does not mean that all activities can restart right away. Philadelphia will resume only some activities and will have stricter guidance for newly reopened activities. Philadelphia business still need and are responsible for following the Safe Mode Guidance from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Those sectors who have not been issued a Safe Mode Guidance will be issued one before they are due to reopen.
You should be sure to check your specific business sector Safe Mode Guidance as these guidelines will note important safety requirements specific to each sector concerning the City’s requirements for mask wearing, social distancing and other important safety mitigation measures.
On June 26, 2020 several businesses were allowed to open at limited capacity including Personal services such as salons, barbers, and spas. When Philadelphia enters the Green Phase, the following chart will apply:
Permitted Right Away:
- Outdoor group recreational and sports activities for youth and adults
- Gyms and indoor exercise classes
- Schools and Collages
- Libraries and Museums
- Indoor Shopping Malls
- Outdoor performances and small outdoor events (up to 50 people)
- Restaurants with indoor seating with occupancy restrictions
Not Permitted Right Away:
- Restaurants and bars with indoor seating (no occupancy restrictions)
- Large outdoor events with more than 50 people
- Theatres and indoor events
- In-person conventions/conferences
- Large indoor social and religious gatherings (more than 25 people)
- Senior services involving gatherings, such as adult daycare.
However, even though businesses will be permitted to open, actual occupancy and safety requirements will differ between particular businesses sectors. This is why it is imperative to access and review the City’s specific guidelines for your sector. Click here for more information.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into action a plan to slowly reopen the Commonwealth county-by-county. This plan has three phases:
- Red (harshest restrictions)
- Yellow (moderate restrictions)
- Green (least restrictions though not completely without restrictions)
Counties are able to move from each phase after a successful 2-week period of COVID-19 outbreak being “mitigated” for 14 days. Note, an unsuccessful 2-week period may result in either jumping back a phase or staying within the current phase for longer. You can find more information here about each phase.
For businesses in Philadelphia, general guidance and restrictions during the Yellow phase include:
- Indoor recreation; health and wellness facilities; personal care services such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons, and massage therapy providers; and entertainment such as casinos and theaters must remain closed.
- In-person retail may re-open but with limited entry of 5 persons per 1000sq ft with curbside pickup encouraged.
- Restaurants and bars may re-open with outside seating on June 12, 2020 who were previously licensed for it.
- All businesses must still follow CDC and DOH guidelines for cleaning.
On June 5, 2020, Philadelphia County entered the Yellow phase. The City of Philadelphia has instituted their own guidelines for businesses operations in the Yellow phase titled “Safe Mode.” Safe Mode covers the occupational sector, health care, transportation, entertainment/travel, education, community/family gatherings, and physical activity.
Within Safe Mode, the City of Philadelphia has created mandatory checklists for each business sector allowed to operate (though most at limited capacity) during the Yellow Phase. Although the checklists requirements for each business sector is different, they all include some form of restrictions regarding:
- Reduced Crowds
It may be helpful to assign one person (or a team if available) within your business to make sure that these mandatory checklists are being followed at all times.
Unfortunately, impending litigation associated with the contraction of COVID-19 and businesses seems likely. This guide is designed to mitigate the legal risks associated with COVID-19.
Triple-check that you are legally allowed to open. State and county websites should have this information available. If your industry is regulated by any sort of licensing agency or regulatory agency it would be helpful to check with them too.
Talk to your insurers. Become familiar with their policies and understand how it affects your business. You may want to ask if they have any specific risk management practices that you can undertake or any new trainings.
Create and implement a plan. Your plan should incorporate both the CDC, Philadelphia, and OSHA guidelines. Guidelines change frequently so you do need to continue to monitor them. It is important to develop a plan that you will follow ahead of time in case one of your employees or customers contracts the COVID-19. This will put the onus on your employees to follow this plan which will reduce your overall risk.
Communicate. With both your customers and your employees about the risks of the Coronavirus and what you are doing to mitigate those risks.
Yes, but there are some exceptions. As an employer, you have a general obligation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to maintain a workspace free from recognized and serious hazards. This obligation includes maintaining a workspace free of exposure to COVID-19. However, under the Civil Rights Act, you can’t discriminate or deny goods or services based on race, color, religion, disability, or national origin. This means if you are going to implement a policy to refuse service to someone based on their coughing, you must implement that policy uniformly – that is to say that this policy must be applied to every customer who comes into your business.
Please also note that, per a PA Secretary of Health Order effective April 18, 2020, customers (and workers) must wear masks inside Pennsylvania businesses.
Yes, you can deny physical entry and service. However, if you are a business in Pennsylvania that sells food, medication, or medical supplies you must provide for pick-up services for customers who are not wearing a mask.
Please note, Per a PA Secretary of Health Order, you cannot deny service to someone because they are not wearing a mask due to an underlying medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, or if they are a child under two years of age. Persons with an underlying medical condition are not required to provide documentation.
Please note, this is a developing area and we recommend that businesses find accommodations for customers that ensure overall safety for themselves and employees. If you do find yourself in a situation where a customer refuses to wear a mask, we recommend that you try to accommodate that customer as best you can (possibly asking them to wait outside while you put together an order for them). Further, if it seems like the customer is dissatisfied, you should document the interaction between your business and that customer in detail for your own records, including any accommodation measures you took.
You may want to alert your customers in advance that they need to wear masks before entering your business. An alert could take the form of an e-mail, posting on social media, an app notification, hanging posters outside your building, or a combination of these.
Maybe. Business owners generally have a wide latitude to refuse to serve a prospective customer, as long as the owners are not discriminating against a prospective customer based on race, color, religion, disability, or national origin.
The City of Philadelphia is encouraging businesses to post signage outside encouraging people not to enter if they are sick and mandating mask wearing inside businesses.
It may be best for you to come up with an objective threshold (such as taking someone’s temperature or observing repeated coughing) as a baseline of refusal of service rather than a subjective threshold (such as “thinking” someone is sick) to avoid a potential discrimination suit.
Similarly, if you do refuse service to a prospective customer because you think they are sick, you should record your observations as soon as possible and save any security camera footage, if you have it. That way you can provide some backup to your decision if it is questioned later.
Yes, but again, this policy must apply to all customers. OSHA is currently urging employers to keep their employees six feet from persons known to be sick. The City of Philadelphia is also encouraging employers to ensure six feet of distance between persons within their business.
Note: Essential businesses in Philadelphia must download, print, and hang informational posters concerning social distancing which can be found here.
If your business is so small that it would be impracticable for customers to keep six feet of distance from you or from each other, you may need to consider reduced hours, limiting the amount of customers in your business, or pivoting your business to pickup and delivery. For more information, see our page on Pivoting Your Business.
Yes, with that customer’s permission. Though note that not every person who may have a fever has COVID-19, or that person may have COVID-19 and not have a fever.
Yes, you must, if you are operating a physical business in Pennsylvania. You must limit the number of customers to at least 50% of the number stated on your certificate of occupancy at any given time. You must also maintain six feet of social distance at checkout lines and counter lines.
You must also place signage throughout the business mandating social distancing. Social distancing posters can be found here.
Yes, every hour (or more often), employees must wash their hands. You must provide soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to employees.
If you are unable to provide hand sanitizer to your employees, it is unclear what the penalty will be. However, we anticipate some leniency from state authorities considering the current nationwide shortage of hand sanitizer.
Yes, you must if you have an employee that has either a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19. In Pennsylvania it is now mandatory to take employee’s temperatures before the start of work if an employee has either a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19. As with all medical information, however, if the your employee does have a fever, that information would be subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) confidentiality rules. So it should be documented separately from other files as a medical record in accordance with the ADA.
You may take an employee’s temperature even if you do not have an employee who has a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19. If you do choose to take employee’s temperature you should take every employee’s temperature and follow the procedures highlighted in the next question.
You can also require that employees take temperature checks at home. You may want to provide employees with thermometers because the expense of a thermometer may have to be reimbursed by you.
Yes, you should follow these guidelines:
- Be consistent. Test every employee every day at the beginning of their shift.
- Do temperature checks in private.
- Whoever is administering the checks should be adequately trained on how to both use the thermometer and what to do with the temperature read.
- Temperature information should be documented and marked as confidential (you can put this information in a folder and write “confidential information” on it).
- If someone’s temperature is above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit you must send them home.
- The time that people spend waiting to have their temperature checked should be compensable time.
Yes. OSHA has laid out several prevention methods that you should consider implementing, in their “Guidance on Preparing Work Places for COVID-19”.
These methods include sending workers home if they are feeling unwell, providing the ability for employees to wash their hands, having a plan on how to respond if an employee becomes sick at work, and many practical tips on how to implement prevention measures. The OSHA guidance is lengthy, but clear and well worth a read.
The CDC has also recommended educating employees on COVID-19 transmission, symptoms, proper hygiene, and performing routine environmental cleaning and disinfectant on all frequently touched surfaces. EPA approved disinfectants can be found here.
The City of Philadelphia and CDC have noted that “any employee with symptoms of Covid-like illness should not come to work. If symptoms occur while at work the employee should be isolated and sent home immediately…[and] advised to seek medical care if symptoms are severe”.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- shortness of breath
- sore throat
- muscle pain
- new loss of taste or smell
You must also promptly tell your employees if another employee in their workplace has tested positive if those employees were within “close contact” (within six feet for at least 10 minutes) with the employee who tested positive. Note that you may not tell the other employees which employee has tested positive, as that information may be subject to privacy regulations.
Please note, if one of your employees has either a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case, you must close your business for cleaning. You must open outside doors and windows and use ventilation fans to increase air circulation in the area. Wait a minimum of 24 hours before beginning to clean and disinfect, focusing especially on frequently touched areas.
Employees who are in close household contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case and do not become ill must still stay home and self-isolate for 14 days after isolation has been discontinued for the ill household member.
Employees who have come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case must still stay home and self-isolate for 14 days after the contact even if they do not develop symptoms.
Please note, close contact is defined as:
- Being within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time (10 minutes or longer)
- Having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed on)
We strongly urge you to urge your employees to be liberal and risk-averse with respect to the definition of “close contact”.
The City of Philadelphia has stated that an employee can come back to work when they have meth these three requirements:
- Had at least three days of no fever, without using fever reducing medication like Tylenol;
- Had an improvement in respiratory symptoms;
- At least 10 days have passed since the symptoms started.
We strongly recommend that you err on the side of caution when directing or allowing and employee to return to work after recovering from illness.
Maybe. The CDC has stated that employees who were potentially exposed to COVID-19 can return so long as they are not showing any symptoms of COVID-19. However, the Philadelphia Public Health Department’s guidelines state that “employees who have had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in a non-household setting must stay home and self-isolate for 14 days after their last contact with the case even if they do not develop symptoms.” The City gave this instruction first in March 2020 and re-iterated it in updated guidelines in early May 2020.
It is unclear that these “rules “are being enforced by anyone. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the federal agency in charge of protecting workers, is not enforcing the CDC guidelines as law. It is further unclear that the Philadelphia Public Health Department’s guidelines are being enforced either.
Yes, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health signed these protocols into order and they are effective as of 8 p.m. on April 19, 2020.
You must now provide your employees with masks to use during their shift. Employees must wear masks while working except for break time and only then to eat and drink. Employers can approve the use of homemade masks in accordance with the Department of Health Guidelines. Those guidelines provide instructions on how to make a mask at home, and are reproduced below:
How to Make a Homemade Mask out of Fabric or Cloth:
- Fabric (100% cotton is most effective)
- Fabric Ties
- Sewing machine or a needle and thread
- Measure and cut two pieces of fabric in a rectangle pattern to fit snugly around the face (size 12 inches by six inches is standard for adults)
- Tightly sew both layers together on all edges
- Cut fabric ties to fit around the ears
- Sew the ties to the insides of the mask on the smaller edge, repeat on both sides
- Resew the sides to ensure a tight seal between both pieces of fabric and the earpiece
A New York Times Tutorial on Mask Making
Staggered employee entrance and breaks
You must stagger employee start and stop work times to prevent gathering of large groups (over 10 people).
You must stagger employee break times and provide break areas where employees can break and eat meals while maintaining six feet at least between each other.
Training should be done virtually if possible. If training needs to be done in person, keep it to less than 10 employees and maintain at least six feet of distance between each employee.
High Risk Customers
You must designate a specific time for high risk and elderly persons to visit your business at least once a week if your business features continuing in-person customer-facing component. The rule and guidance is not entirely clear, but you generally cannot require a person identifying as “high risk” to disclose the circumstances by which they are considered “high risk.”