After more than a year of navigating the myriad orders impacting Pennsylvania businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wolf administration has announced that it will lift all mitigation orders, except masking, on May 31, 2021. Although the announcement was sparse on detail, its general nature suggests that the following mitigation mandates – which we have covered in detailed previously – will be lifted this Memorial Day.
- Remote work
Although remote work was mandated unless impossible for a period of time, the Governor’s amended order of April 1, 2021 modified this requirement to only “strongly encourage” businesses to conduct their operations, in whole or in part, via telework. Effective May 31, 2021, businesses may be permitted to resume their normal in-person operations without restriction.
- Business and building safety requirements for businesses with in-person operations.
Adhering to enhanced cleaning, sanitation, and operational requirements throughout the pandemic has presented a number of practical issues for businesses. Most recently, Governor Wolf’s November 27, 2020 Order set forth a number of enhanced cleaning and mitigation protocols for businesses maintaining in-person operations, including altering business hours to provide sufficient time to clean; wiping down carts and handbaskets before they become available to customers for use; staggering check-out counters and registers to allow for hourly cleaning; implementing temperature screenings before employees enter the business prior to the start of each shift; staggering employee break times; conducting meetings and trainings virtually; and scheduling handwashing breaks as necessary.
- Occupancy limits for businesses with in-person operations
Over the course of the past year, businesses have been forced to monitor and adapt to the changing capacity and operational restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. Currently, retail businesses with in-person operations, businesses in the entertainment industry, which serve the public within a building or defined area, gyms, and personal care services, can operate at only 75 percent capacity. Restaurants and private catered events are limited to operating at only 50 percent capacity, unless the establishment enrolls in and complies with the Open & Certified Pennsylvania program, in which case the business can operate at 75 percent capacity. When these mitigation restrictions are lifted, businesses can resume operations at full capacity.
The Wolf Administration’s announcement is welcome news to business owners who have been struggling to stay afloat in the face of business closures and restrictions for over a year.
That said, it is unclear at this juncture whether any of the above requirements, such as contact tracing, employee isolation/quarantine, and cleaning requirements, will remain in effect. For example, after May 31, 2021, it remains an open question whether employers will have any obligations, when responding to cases in which employees experience symptoms of COVID-19, to report having had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or to report having tested positive for COVID-19. Pennsylvania employers will benefit from clarification as to whether such specific requirements will or will not remain in effect.
Additionally, employers should keep in mind that, although the statewide orders are being lifted as of May 31, 2021, local orders, which provide for additional, and often times more stringent, restrictions and operational requirements, may still remain in effect.
Additionally, according to the Wolf administration’s announcement, the statewide masking order will remain in effect until at least 70 percent or Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are vaccinated.
Without question, this announcement stands as a clear indication that Pennsylvania is one step closer to emerging from the considerable measures taken in the face of the pandemic. In furtherance of its goal of enabling a smooth transition to a full reopening, the Wolf administration will hopefully address the above items, among the many others that Pennsylvania employers might have, with clarity when taking official action to rescind the prior mitigation orders.
Reed Smith’s Labor and Employment team will continue to closely monitor developments related to the lifting of mitigation orders in the Commonwealth, and is ready to assist you and your business with any questions or concerns that might arise.