Employers should continue to proceed with caution, even as Pennsylvania and Philadelphia loosen, and in some instances end, certain mandatory restrictions.
On April 4, 2021, Pennsylvania ended its mandatory telework order that had been in effect for almost a year. Philadelphia followed suit and ended its telework requirement for offices. Telework is still strongly encouraged, but employers may now bring employees back to the workplace, so long as they continue to follow and enforce other federal, state and local COVID-19 mitigation measures.
When Governor Tom Wolf first announced that the Commonwealth would be lifting additional restrictions on April 4, 2021, he mentioned only an increase of certain gathering and occupancy limits. However, on April 1, 2021, the Executive Order that Wolf signed amending the November 23, 2020, Mitigation Order not only increased certain gathering and occupancy restrictions, but it also eliminated the requirement that had been applicable to all businesses, except healthcare providers, to conduct operations remotely unless impossible. The amended Mitigation Order now states:
All businesses are strongly encouraged to conduct their operations in whole or in part remotely through individual teleworking of their employees in the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which they do business. Businesses choosing to conduct in-person business operations must comply with this Order, including any subsequent amendments, and all guidance issued by the Wolf Administration, the Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Philadelphia likewise revised its mandatory guidance for offices, which, as of the date of this Alert, states, "The Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) recommends that office workers continue to work at home when possible."
Gathering and Occupancy Restrictions
In addition to ending the telework requirement, Pennsylvania amended its COVID-19 restrictions as follows:
- All in-person retail businesses serving the public may operate at up to 75 percent of the maximum capacity.
- All gym and fitness facilities may continue indoor operations at up to 75 percent occupancy.
- Personal care services may operate at up to 75 percent occupancy.
- Bar service is permitted so long as physical distancing, face coverings and other mitigation measures (e.g., serving only seated patrons) are employed to protect workers and patrons.
- Restaurants and bars may increase nonevent capacity limitations to 75 percent for indoor dining and bar service if the establishment enrolls in and complies with the Open & Certified Pennsylvania program.
- Nightclubs may operate at up to 50 percent capacity.
- Indoor events and gatherings are increased to 25 percent of maximum occupancy.
- Outdoor events and gatherings are increased to 50 percent of maximum occupancy.
What This Means for Employers
Employers should continue to proceed with caution, even as Pennsylvania and Philadelphia loosen, and in some instances end, certain mandatory restrictions. For example, although telework is no longer required, it is still strongly encouraged in Pennsylvania, and so it may still be prudent for an employer to continue remote work until vaccination rates reach a certain threshold. In deciding whether to modify policies and procedures, employers should carefully consider federal, state and local guidance, and consult counsel as needed.
In addition and as a reminder, other COVID-19 health and safety requirements, such as daily screenings, social distancing and wearing masks, remain in effect for Pennsylvania employers. Employers should also be cognizant of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's guidance to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19, which we discussed in a previous Alert. Although we are all starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, there is still a long way to go before things will be fully back to "normal."
Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.