Pennsylvania Businesses Ordered to Shut Down their Physical Operations If Not “Life Sustaining”
On Thursday, March 19, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered all Pennsylvania businesses that are not “life sustaining” to shut down physical operations by Saturday, March 21 at 12:01 a.m. A copy of the Order is here. Such business may continue to operate on a virtual or telework basis, “so long as social distancing and other mitigation measures are followed.”
The Order specifically exempts “life sustaining businesses,” which may remain open subject to those businesses undertaking the same social distancing and mitigation measures. Similarly, the Order allows “businesses that offer carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service” to continue operations, subject to the same social distancing and mitigation measures. The Order incorporates a list of life and non-life sustaining businesses, which can be found here.
The press release accompanying the Order indicates that, “[i]n extenuating circumstances, special exemptions will be granted to businesses that are supplying or servicing health care providers.” Businesses seeking an exemption should email RAemail@example.com. Businesses seeking clarification regarding whether they need to close should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Employers that do not comply are subject to enforcement actions by the Commonwealth. Governor Wolf has directed the Liquor Control Board, Departments of Health and Agriculture, State Police, and local officials to take appropriate enforcement measures. According to the press release from the Governor’s office, noncompliant entities “will forfeit their ability to receive any applicable disaster relief and/or may be subject to other appropriate administrative action,” which may include license suspension or revocation and termination of state loan or grant funding. The Governor’s office also stated that, “in addition to any other criminal charges that might be applicable, the Department of Health is authorized to prosecute noncompliant entities for the failure to comply with health laws.”
The Order took effect immediately, with non-life sustaining businesses expected to close by 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, 2020. In terms of the timing of enforcement, Governor Wolf announced that:
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board began enforcing the Order against its license holders on Wednesday, March 18;
Enforcement for all other food establishments began at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 19; and
Enforcement measures for all other business will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, March 21.
The Order is to remain in effect until further notice.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is providing resources to businesses, including working capital loans and low-interest loans for small businesses and eligible non-profits. Businesses seeking guidance from DCED should contact email@example.com or 1-877-PA-HEALTH (and selecting option 1).
The Order follows on the heels of Governor Wolf’s press conference on Monday, March 17, in which he strongly urged non-essential businesses across the Commonwealth to close for at least 14 days in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Shortly after the press conference, the Governor’s office issued guidance explaining which businesses it considered essential and non-essential. That announcement is now superseded by the March 19 Order.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney had also previously announced guidelines for businesses in the City of Philadelphia. Those guidelines similarly addressed “non-essential businesses,” requiring that they close starting on March 16 at 5:00 p.m. until at least March 27. This announcement too is effectively superseded by Governor Wolf’s March 19 Order.