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Houston Harbaugh Blog

PA Department Of Health Order On Workplace COVID-19 Health And Safety Measures

On April 15, 2020, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Rachel Levine, M.D., issued an order mandating certain workplace health and safety measures for life-sustaining businesses and organizations currently operating, except healthcare providers. The Order takes effect at 8:00 p.m. on April 19, 2020 and can be found HERE. The biggest changes include requiring the employer to take the temperature of employees upon entering the premises when an employee is suspected or confirmed to have contracted COVID-19; making it mandatory for employees to wear masks while on the work site; and requiring employers to provide masks for employees to wear at work, unless employees bring their own masks that comply with Pa. Department of Health guidelines. Workplaces are required to enact the following measures:

  • Pursuant to a prior order issued by the Secretary that took effect on April 6, 2020, owners of buildings with at least 50,000 square feet used for commercial, industrial or other enterprises must clean and disinfect “high-touch” areas routinely in accordance with CDC guidelines, ensure they have a sufficient number of employees to perform these cleaning protocols effectively, and ensure the workplace has a sufficient number of security personnel to control access, maintain order, and enforce social distancing. The April 6, 2020 Order can be found HERE and the CDC guidelines can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
  • The April 15, 2020 Order requires the following additional measures:
    • Establish protocols to follow when a person in the workplace is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, including the following steps:
      • Close off all areas visited by the person and wait a minimum of 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting. Open outside doors and windows and use ventilation fans to increase air circulation. Clean all areas and equipment used by the ill person (“ill person” is the term used in the Order to apparently refer to someone who tested positive for or is presumed to have COVID-19), focusing on frequently touched areas.
      • Identify employees that were within 6 feet of the ill person from 48 hours before the onset of symptoms to the time when the ill person was isolated. If those employees are asymptomatic, they should adhere to the CDC Guidelines for individuals exposed to COVID-19 ill persons. If the employee becomes sick during the work day, he or she is to be sent home immediately, and any surfaces and equipment touched by that employee should be cleaned and disinfected. The Order encourages employers to provide “liberal paid time off” for employees who cannot work for COVID-19 related reasons but does not provide further guidance on this point. We recommend employers comply with the requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). Please see our article outlining those requirements here.
      • Promptly notify other employees or persons who were within 6 feet of the ill person, consistent with applicable confidentiality and HIPAA laws.
      • Ensure the workplace has enough employees tasked to timely and sufficiently implement these protocols.
      • Implement temperature screenings for each employee entering the premises before the employee starts work, and send employees home that have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher. Please note we interpret the Order to mean that temperature screenings are only required when a person in the workplace is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.
    • Stagger employee work start and stop times, and break times, to prevent gatherings of large groups. For break rooms and other gathering areas, provide a sufficient amount of space for employees to maintain at least 6 feet apart at all times and arrange seating to have employees all face the same direction instead of across from each other.
    • Limit the number of persons in common areas at any one time in order to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet apart.
    • Conduct meetings and trainings virtually. If an in-person meeting is necessary, limit the meeting to 10 or fewer and maintain a distance between participants of at least 6 feet apart.
    • Provide employees access to regular handwashing with soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, and ensure all common areas are cleaned on a regular basis, including between shifts.
    • Provide masks for employees to wear at all times while at work, and make it mandatory for employees to wear masks while on the work site, except during break times to eat and drink. Employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees in accordance with Pa. Department of Health guidelines.
    • Ensure the facility has a sufficient number of employees tasked to control access, maintain order, and enforce social distancing of at least 6 feet.
    • Prohibit non-essential visitors from entering the workplace.
    • Ensure all employees are made aware of these requirements by communicating them either verbally or in writing in a format that allows everyone to understand.

In addition to the above, life-sustaining businesses and organizations that serve the public within a building or defined area, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, must implement the following:

  • Where feasible, conduct business with the public by appointment only, and if this is not feasible, occupancy must be limited to no greater than 50% of the number stated on the certificate of occupancy at any given time, and those persons must maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet apart. Businesses must place signage throughout the site mandating social distancing of at least 6 feet for customers and employees.
  • Alter hours of business to provide sufficient time to clean and restock.
  • Install shields or other barriers at registers and check-out areas to physically separate cashiers and customers and maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet apart.
  • Encourage use of online ordering by providing delivery or pick-up options.
  • Designate a specific time for high-risk and elderly persons to use the facility at least once a week.
  • Require all customers to wear masks while on the premises and deny entry to individuals not wearing masks, except those exempt by CDC guidelines (such as children under the age of 2).
  • In businesses with multiple check-out lines, only use every other register or fewer. After every hour, rotate customers and employees to the previously closed registers. Clean the previously open registers and the surrounding area, including credit card machines, following each rotation.
  • Schedule handwashing breaks for employees at least every hour.
  • Assign an employee to wipe down carts and handbaskets before they become available to each customer entering the premises.

There are numerous areas of interpretation as to how to go about implementing the requirements of the Order that require good judgment and balancing the important goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19 with the desire to resume or continue business operations in a cost-effective way that complies with the Order. Numerous questions are raised by the Order, including how to protect from exposure the person taking employee temperatures, how employers will be able to provide masks to employees when they are in such short supply (the Order is written in a way that is not clear but may imply that employers cannot require but may permit employees to make and bring their own masks from home), and how to know what types of masks are adequate. We are available to help businesses and organizations comply with the new requirements and navigate the ever-changing workplace landscape due to COVID-19.

For more information, contact the author of this article, Catherine Loeffler, Esquire, or Craig Brooks, Esquire, employment attorneys at Houston Harbaugh.

 

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