Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Non-Essential Business Closures Due to COVID-19

Updated March 23, 2020:  On March 22, 2020, the mayor of Philadelphia issued an Emergency Order extending the list of non-essential businesses and mandating all Philadelphia residents to stay at home except for limited purposes.  Click here for the update.

In an afternoon press conference on March 16, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared that certain non-essential businesses across Pennsylvania “are to close” for at least 14 days to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  In a press release issued later that evening, Governor Wolf reiterated that “we strongly urge non-essential businesses to temporarily close,” noting that his administration was relying on businesses to act now before the governor or the secretary of health finds it necessary to compel closures.  He specified the essential services and sectors and other businesses that may remain open, but noted they should employ social distancing practices, and encouraged Pennsylvanians to be thoughtful in their visits. These announcements expand prior closures that affected certain non-essential businesses in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.  

Separately, the mayor of Philadelphia has issued a mandate, documented in a press release, that “only essential commercial establishments should remain open.” These essential businesses are enumerated below. City inspectors are prepared to enforce this mandate and respond to reports of non-compliance by the public. On March 17, 2020, the Mayor’s Office issued an Emergency Order forbidding the operation of businesses that do not provide essential services to the public. 

Pennsylvania Guidance

Non-Essential Businesses in Pennsylvania “Strongly Urged” to Close for 14 Days

Governor Wolf “strongly urged” non-essential businesses to close temporarily for 14 days. He defined non-essential businesses as including public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and recreation facilities, including but not limited to:   

  • Restaurants and bars, which must close dine-in facilities, but may offer carry-out, delivery and drive-through food and beverage service.  These businesses should employ social distancing practices and avoid gatherings of 10 or more as per presidential administration guidance.  (See Philadelphia guidance below, which allows only on-line and phone orders for delivery and pick up)
  • Non-essential retail facilities, including shopping malls (except for pharmacy or other health care facilities located therein)
  • Hair salons, nail salons, and spas
  • Gyms, including yoga/spin/barre facilities
  • Casinos, concert venues, and theaters
  • Sporting events facilities and golf courses
  • Community and recreation centers

The Wolf administration is relying on businesses to act now before the governor or the secretary of health finds it necessary to compel closures under the law for the interest of public health, including §7301 of the Emergency Management Services Code.  The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued this guidance for non-essential business in a letter to business owners dated March 14, 2020. 

Essential Services and Sectors in Pennsylvania May Remain Open But Should Employ Social Distancing

Governor Wolf clarified that essential services and sectors may remain open, but should employ social distancing practices and be thoughtful in visits.  Essential services and sectors include, but are not limited to:

  • Food processing
  • Agriculture
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Feed mills
  • Construction
  • Trash collection
  • Grocery and household goods (including convenience stores)
  • Home repair/hardware and auto repair
  • Pharmacy and other medical facilities
  • Biomedical and healthcare
  • Post offices
  • Shipping outlets
  • Insurance
  • Banks
  • Gas stations
  • Laundromats
  • Veterinary clinics and pet stores
  • Warehousing, storage and distribution
  • Public transportation
  • Hotel and commercial lodging

Philadelphia has provided a longer and more specific list below.

Other Businesses in Pennsylvania That May Remain Open But Should Employ Social Distancing

The following other businesses may remain open, but are encouraged to have employees work remotely or telecommute. If this is not possible, these businesses should employ social distancing and be aware of the federal guidance to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people: 

  • Legal services
  • Business and management consulting
  • Professional services
  • Insurance services

Philadelphia Guidance

On March 16, 2020, and effective immediately at 5:00 p.m. through at least Friday, March 27, 2020, the mayor of Philadelphia issued new restrictions on business activity in Philadelphia and non-essential city government operations to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The mayor stressed that the changes were not made lightly and that his administration was actively developing grant and loan programs aimed at business and job preservation. 

On March 17, 2020, the mayor issued an Emergency Order Temporarily Prohibiting Operation of Non-Essential Businesses to Prevent the Spread of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).  The Order states that it “is immediately necessary to forbid the operation of businesses that do not provide essential services to the public.”  The Emergency Order provides that “no person or entity shall operate a non-essential place of business.  This prohibition does not apply to virtual or remote operations (e.g. work from home).”  The Order specifies the types of businesses that are Essential and Non-Essential, and also specifies mandatory social distancing rules.  The Order shall be effective through March 27, 2020.  Failure to comply shall result in orders to cease operations, other remedies and penalties.  

Only Essential Commercial Establishments Should Remain Open

To ensure that essential goods are accessible to the public, the city’s Order mandates that only essential commercial establishments may remain open.  The Order designates the following businesses as essential (adding more specificity to the list provided in the prior press release).

Essential Retail Businesses include:  

  1. Supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and mini-markets
  2. Restaurants and food vendors providing food through online, delivery, pickup, or walk-in (dine-in service is strictly prohibited)
  3. Pharmacies and retail sellers of medicines not requiring a prescription
  4. Suppliers of medical equipment such as hearing aids, eyeglasses, walkers and wheelchairs
  5. General building maintenance and household repairs (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, utilities)
  6. Stores selling general merchandise and household consumer products, such as chain drugstores, food access, technology equipment, and hardware
  7. Hardware stores and stores supplying paint, flat glass, electrical, plumbing, heating, automotive parts, and other construction materials
  8. Gas stations, automotive repair service shops, and bicycle stores
  9. Banks and related financial institutions
  10. Post offices
  11. Laundromats and dry cleaners
  12. Veterinary clinics and pet stores
  13. Hotels
  14. Domestic workers
  15. Delivery, shipping, and courier services
  16. Sellers, installers, and maintenance-providers of computers, telecommunications equipment, audio and video consumer electronics, household appliances
  17. Retail vendors of optics and photography equipment
  18. Vendors of sanitary equipment
  19. Businesses that supply Essential Businesses with indispensable support services or supplies necessary to operate

Essential Infrastructure and Industrial Businesses include businesses providing work necessary for the following:

  1. General construction services
  2. Utilities (plumbing, water, sewer, gas, electrical, energy production)
  3. Roads and highways
  4. Transportation services, including public and private transportation; automotive services
  5. Delivery and distribution services
  6. Waste collection and removal; janitorial services; and extermination services
  7. Telecommunications, internet, and radio systems
  8. Manufacturing, industrial production, and warehousing
  9. Ports and port-related functions
  10. Security services
  11. News media and press (print and online newspapers, broadcast radio and television, magazines, and all other news outlets)

Essential Healthcare and Social Services Businesses include:

  1. Hospitals, physician offices, urgent care, clinics, dentists, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, home healthcare services providers, mental and behavioral health providers, or any related medical or healthcare services
  2. Businesses that provide essential food, shelter, and critical social services for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals are not prohibited from providing essential food, shelter, and services
  3. Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults and children

Additional Essential Businesses may be determined by the Department of Public Health and identified at  Nothing in the City’s Order should be interpreted to permit the operation of a business that has been prohibited from operating by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Non-Essential Businesses Are Prohibited From Operating

The Order prohibits Non-Essential Businesses from operating in the City, as follows:

  1. Office-based businesses or organizations (except an Essential Business) are prohibited from operating the business generally with personnel located in such office.  However, owners of non-essential office-based businesses can allow limited physical access to the place of business by such personnel as necessary to:
    1. secure and maintain the premises
    2. preserve the property or inventory within
    3. process payroll and benefits
    4. facilitate remote access to documents, data, and technology that are indispensable to operating the business
  1. Non-essential retail businesses, including but not limited to:
    1. movie theatres
    2. clothing-only stores
    3. fitness clubs
    4. arts and music venues
    5. tour operators
    6. social clubs
    7. night clubs
    8. bars
    9. amusement facilities
    10. event halls
  1. Child daycare facilities unless they obtain a waiver from the Commonwealth or City.
  1. Law firms, which should endeavor to provide legal services remotely, except for when physical access to office premises is necessary to seek emergency relief in court or to assist clients in complying with legally mandated activities that cannot be done remotely.

Non-Essential Philadelphia City Government Operations Halted

The mayor announced that all city government buildings will be closed to the public, effective Tuesday, March 17, 2020.  Staff members will report to work on Tuesday, March 17, unless otherwise instructed.  Beginning on Wednesday, all non-essential city workers will not report to work.  Essential operations of the city include public safety, health and human services, utilities, sanitation, and payroll.

Social Distancing Rules

Any business operating under and during the term of the Order must adhere to Social Distancing Rules, which include:

  1. Making efforts to maintain at least six (6) feet of space between individuals
  2. Frequently washing hands with soap and running water for at least thirty (30) seconds and/or using hand sanitizer
  3. Refraining from shaking hands
  4. Covering coughs or sneezes with a sleeve or elbow (not hands)
  5. Regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces, such as desks, tables, countertops, computers, phones and door handles 

Reprieve from Predictability Pay Enforcement under the Fair Workweek Employment Standards Ordinance 

The city’s Office of Benefits and Wage Compliance communicated by email on March 16, 2020 that it will not be enforcing predictability pay as of the April 1, 2020 effective date of the Fair Workweek Employment Standards Ordinance.  Covered retail, hospitality and food services establishments are still expected to comply with the other portions of the Ordinance.  Requests to stay the April 1 effective date in its entirety have been submitted.

Paid Sick Leave Extended to COVID-19 Absences 

The Philadelphia paid sick leave law, Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, Phila. Code 9-4100 et seq., has been expanded so that covered workers can use their paid sick leave for COVID-19-related business closures, quarantine, and to stay home with their children during school closures, without fear of retaliation. This expansion was described in the same email from the city’s Office of Benefits and Wage Compliance that delayed the predictability pay and contained no other changes to the Ordinance with regard to the amount of leave available or the definition of “covered employee.” 

Further measures may be taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19, as the situation evolves.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.