November 19, 2020

COVID-19: The City of Philadelphia Presents “Safer at Home” Restrictions

On November 16, 2020, the City of Philadelphia announced new restrictions to help mitigate the rapidly increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.  These restrictions were set in place to address the non-compliance of mask wearing and social distancing indoors at public places such as restaurants, gyms, and even private homes.  The new restrictions will begin on November 20, 2020 and continue through January 1, 2021, barring any additional increases of COVID-19 cases within the city.

The Safer at Home restrictions have strictly prohibited the following:

  • High School and Colleges must move to online instruction only (with the exception of clinical instruction for students in health sciences);
  • Indoor dining at restaurants and other food service businesses (takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining may continue- with additional restrictions);
  • Theaters and other performance space activities;
  • Bowling alleys, arcades, and game space activities;
  • Museum based activities;
  • Library activities except for those serving as Access Centers (curbside drop-off and pickup services for patrons are allowed);
  • Casino operations;
  • Recreational activities and sports for youth, community groups, and schools;
  • Gyms and indoors exercise classes (exercise groups and classes may continue outdoors);
  • Senior day services will remain closed;
  • All indoor gatherings and events involving people from more than one household, in public or private spaces. This includes private events such as weddings and showers, as well as funerals;
  • Religious institutions are permitted to have people indoors, but density must be capped at 5 people per 1,000 sq. ft. or 5 percent of maximum occupancy; 
  • Outdoor gatherings and events are limited to 10 percent of maximum capacity of the space, or 10 people per 1,000 sq. ft. for venues with an undefined maximum capacity—not to exceed 2,000 people in any outdoor space. In addition, all individuals at outdoor gatherings must wear masks at all times, and neither food nor beverages may be served.

Adherence to the above-listed restrictions may invoke the relief provided to employees under the Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA), which is set to expire December 31, 2020.  If the employee is covered under the FFCRA and the employee is unable to work or telework for qualifying reasons, (one of which is due to a local quarantine or isolation order), the employee will be entitled to paid sick leave for up to eighty hours of work.  If the employee is unable to work because the employee must care for his/her child who is now ordered to study at home (if high school or college aged), the employee is entitled to two-thirds pay for up to eighty hours.  The true issue arises when December 31, 2020 passes and this order is still in place.  As it stands right now, there is a one (1) day gap between the FFCRA ending and the Safer at Home Restrictions still being in place.  If the restrictions extend beyond January 1, 2021, employers must be on the lookout for additional guidance pertaining to employee benefits and leave caused by the order.

For businesses and activities that are permitted to continue operations, the City of Philadelphia has instituted additional restrictions found below:

  • Restaurants offering outdoor dining must reduce table sizes to four people. Guidance will make it clear that groups dining outdoors should be household members only, because mixing different households promotes community-wide spread;
  • Retail stores and indoor malls may continue to operate, but with a maximum density of 5 people per 1,000 square feet. The City will require these stores to enforce mask use and distancing of customers and staff;
  • Offices are permitted to have only employees that cannot work remotely;
  • Barbershops, beauty salons, and similar personal services may continue to operate, but all staff and customers must wear masks at all times. These businesses cannot work on the face or otherwise perform services that require that masks be removed;
  • College sports may continue if their plan is specifically approved by the Department of Public Health and no spectators are present;
  • Zoos may operate only their outdoor areas;
  • Parks, trails, playgrounds, and athletic fields will remain open for individual use only (No group sports).

The City has indicated that the following will be permitted to continue operations under the current guidance from the Department of Public Health:

  • Grocery Stores and Farmers Markets
  • Landscaping
  • Pharmacies
  • Banks
  • Construction
  • Home-Based Construction
  • Renovation
  • Repair and Maintenance
  • Manufacturing and Warehousing
  • Real Estate Operations and Transactions
  • Health Care Services
  • Home-Based Support Services
  • Taxis and Ride Share Services
  • Hotels
  • Transit
  • Outdoor Mobile Food Carts and Trucks
  • Drive-In Events
  • Child Day Care and Early Learning Centers
  • Elementary and Middle Schools
  • Access Centers for Children in Elementary and Middle School

Employers must determine what specific job duties can and cannot be performed remotely in order to conform to the order.  Feasibility, as well as compliance, must be measured to continue successful operations.  Employers are encouraged to provide remote employees specific guidelines, expectations, and acknowledgment of work from home practices to reduce cybersecurity risks, future exposure to litigation surrounding discrimination or workers’ compensation claims, and maintain productivity.

If you have questions or are in need of assistance in deciphering whether your business activities fall under the new Safer at Home restrictions in Philadelphia, please contact one of the attorneys in our Employment Law Group at 1-888-488-2638.