November 18, 2020


In an ongoing effort to mitigate the surging spread of COVID-19, the PA Department of Health has issued an updated Order on November 17, 2020, regarding the use of face coverings and masks.  With limited exceptions and among other situations, face coverings are required (1) indoors anytime members of other households are present regardless of distance (2) outdoors where members of other households are present with an inability to maintain physical distance, and (3) while participating in indoor physical activities at a gym or fitness center regardless of distance from others.

Businesses and Schools must (1) require that all people, including employees, customers/clients, students, teachers and visitors, wear a face covering and take reasonable steps to enforce the requirement, (2) mitigate or eliminate exposure to those who cannot wear OR refuse to wear a face covering, (3) post prominent visible signs stating that face coverings are required by Order of Secretary of Health, (4) provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with a medical condition, mental condition, or disability which renders it unreasonable for person to wear face covering.  Businesses may decline service to individuals not wearing a face covering and even those claiming to be exempt, so long as a reasonable accommodation, such as a face shield or alternate method of service, has been offered. 

Employees are not required to wear face coverings if they “work alone,” which is defined as a person who is isolated from interaction with other people with little or no expectation of in-person interruption including:  (1) a lone worker inside an enclosed construction vehicle, (2) a person by themselves inside an office with four walls and a door, (3) someone inside a cubicle with 3 walls and a door or entryway, with walls high enough to block the breathing zone of all people walking by, and the worker’s activity will not require anyone to come inside of the worker’s workspace.

While the Department of Health Order does not identify specific penalties for violation of its requirements, it is highly recommended that all employers abide by these directives.  Employers that otherwise fall within the jurisdiction of the PA DOH are particularly vulnerable to fines, penalties and licensure issues for failing to follow the terms of the Order.  Businesses in other industries remain subject to the General Duties Clause of OSHA requiring that workplaces remain safe.  As of the end of October, OSHA had issued over $1.6 million in fines for COVID-19 safety violations.  We recommend that all businesses review their workforce and business model to determine what, if any modifications or enhancements to policy, process or protocol might be necessary to promote compliance with this new order.

The most recent PA DOH Order regarding face coverings can be found here.

Should you have any questions regarding the compliance requirements of this new Order, please do not hesitate to contact one of the attorneys in our Employment Law Group at 1-888-488-2638