August 14, 2020

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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 Businesses seeking clarification regarding whether they need to close should email

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 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.

© 2020 Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 80


About this Author

David Woolf, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Philadelphia, Labor and Employment Litigation Attorney

David J. Woolf assists clients in a range of labor and employment-related matters, including employment litigation, non-competition and other restrictive covenant-related issues and union/management relations. David also actively works with our Corporate and Securities group on labor and employment deal diligence, providing guidance on the labor and employment aspects of actual and potential transactions.

David defends employers in employment-related litigation, including individual and class claims of discrimination, harassment...

(215) 988-2614

Brooke Razor represents public and private employers in a wide variety of employment-related disputes including discrimination cases, harassment, wrongful discharge and FMLA claims. In addition, Brooke advises employers on compliance issues, practices and procedures, and works with clients on employment policies and handbooks. She also has experience drafting employment contracts and performing wage and hour audits.

Brooke is a contributor to the firm's LaborSphere blog, which provides coverage and insights on breaking cases, recently enacted legislation, and a broad range of employee benefits and labor issues.

Prior to joining Drinker Biddle, Brooke was an associate at a prominent Philadelphia law firm.


  • Villanova University School of Law, J.D., 2016, cum laude
  • University of Kentucky, B.A., 2013, summa cum laude
Mark Foley, Labor and Employment Law, Drinker Biddle

Mark J. Foley represents management in employment and labor matters and is often called upon by clients to act as lead trial and appellate counsel in state and federal courts.

Mark has worked in a broad range of employment matters under local, state and federal laws, including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), Title VII, Section 1983 and the First Amendment, Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Americans with Disabilities...