KingSpry | Employer Coronavirus COVID-19 Life Sustaining Business

COVID-19 Update: Operating a Life-Sustaining Business in Pennsylvania

Posted on March 24th, 2020
by Ellen C. Schurdak

On March 19th, Governor Wolf issued an order which initially closed all non-life-sustaining businesses as of 12:01 am on Friday, March 20th.

Enforcement of the Governor’s order was eventually delayed until Monday, March 23rd at 8 am.

In the same order, the Governor defined businesses that could physically remain open during the coronavirus outbreak (Click here for the most recent list of businesses that may continue to operate. Note: this list is subject to change, as evidenced by the Governor, on March 21st, adding accounting firms and payroll companies to the list of life-sustaining companies that may continue to operate during the Coronavirus outbreak.)

The Governor has also permitted employers to ask for a waiver so that the business may continue to operate. Information regarding the waiver process may be obtained by clicking on this link. 

For those businesses that may physically remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, the Governor ordered strict compliance with the Center for Disease Control’s (“CDC”) guidelines to minimize the exposure and further transmission of this virus. As the CDC’s guidelines change, sometimes daily, it is best to consult the CDC’s website to ensure compliance.

The following provides examples of “do’s” and “don’ts” for those employers who may continue to physically operate:

QUESTION: May I continue to hold staff meetings with more than 10 employees?

ANSWER: No – the CDC currently recommends that gatherings of no more than 10 people occur.

SOLUTION: Hold smaller meetings or schedule meetings to work via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or some other, similar videoconferencing platform.

QUESTION: My employees work together, as a team, in an open area where desks are shared and are adjacent to other desks. Is this a problem?

ANSWER: Yes- the CDC currently recommends that individuals maintain at least a six-foot distance from any other person. The CDC also and equipment recommends that office supplies such as phones, computers, and desks not be shared.

SOLUTION: If possible, rearrange the working area so that a minimum of six feet is maintained between desks. One can place chairs on top of desks so that a visual is created that says, “please don’t sit here.” For some, you may be able to have rotating teams of employees reporting at different times so that a six foot distance between employees is maintained at each work station. If office equipment must be shared, one should, throughout the workday, disinfect each item (see CDC website for a list of cleaning supplies and instructions on how to use household beach to disinfect commonly touched items).

QUESTION: Do I have to undertake any extra cleaning precautions during this period of time?

YES: An employer must implement a procedure where the disinfecting of commonly touched areas such as doorknobs on a regular basis. The CDC recommends that every employer identify an employee who is responsible for overseeing this process.

QUESTION: Should I provide masks to employees to wear?

ANSWER: Unless you are providing healthcare services, you do not need to supply masks to employees. The CDC recommends that individuals who test positive for the coronavirus wear a mask to lessen the risk of transmission. However, the CDC does not believe wearing a mask protects a person from contracting the virus.

QUESTION: My employee has the coronavirus, may I tell everyone at work about this employee?

ANSWER: You may not disclose the identity of the person, but you may disclose that an employee has reported positive for the virus and that all should be watching for symptoms in light of this development.

QUESTION: What do I do with any employee who arrives at work with a cough?

ANSWER: Send the employee home with instructions not to return until all symptoms have subsided or until a doctor’s note is provided which says that the individual may return to work.

QUESTION: Do I have to pay an employee that I send home because the employee is sick?

ANSWER: If the employee has no accrued paid time-off, you do not need to currently pay the employee. However, you may be under an obligation to pay the employee once the Families First Coronavirus Response Act takes effect on April 2nd. However, given the exceptional circumstances, many employers have decided to currently pay employees in light of the underlying concerns for public health safety.

QUESTION: Will the Families First Coronavirus Response Act apply to life-sustaining businesses?

ANSWER: Yes – there are provisions in this law that require, in certain circumstances, 80 hours of paid sick time as of April 2nd. Employers are required to post notices of this new law this week. The federal Department of Labor is scheduled to release this notice later this week. For more information regarding this newly enacted federal law, please see (insert date of KS publication).

We understand that this may be an unprecedented time of disruption and confusion to your workplace. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

HR Law Update is a publication of the KingSpry Employment Law Practice Group. Keely Jac Collins is managing editor. HR Law Update is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.