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Pennsylvania - COVID-19 Mandatory Face Coverings and Business Obligations

On November 17, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health released an updated order requiring social distancing and face coverings to prevent COVID-19 when:

  • Indoors or in an enclosed space, regardless of physical distance;
  • Outdoors and unable to maintain social distancing;
  • Working anywhere food is prepared, packaged, or distributed.

The order also provides the following exceptions to the face covering requirement:

  • If wearing a face covering while working would create an unsafe condition to operate equipment or execute a task as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
  • If wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability.
  • When necessary to confirm the individual’s identity.
  • When working alone and isolated from interaction with other people with little or no expectation of in-person interaction.
  • When communicating with someone who is hearing-impaired or has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication

However, all alternatives to wearing a face covering, including the use of a face shield, should be exhausted before not wearing one at all.

The order also imposes the following obligations on all businesses:

  • Require everyone, including employees and customers, wear a face covering and take reasonable steps to enforce the requirement.
  • Mitigate or eliminate employee and customer exposure to people who cannot wear or refuse to wear a face covering.
  • Post prominent signs that are visible to everyone stating that face coverings are required by the Order of the Secretary of Health.
  • Provide reasonable accommodations to people, including employees and customers, who state they have a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for them to wear a face covering.

Businesses may decline service to people who are not wearing a face covering or claim to have a condition preventing them from wearing a face covering or an alternative to a face covering, so long as they attempt to provide a reasonable accommodation. Accommodations could include an alternative to a face covering, such as use of a face shield or providing service options that do not require a customer to enter the business. This may include offering curbside pick-up, delivery, or other innovative solutions.

However, a business should not:

  • Enforce face covering requirements when it is unsafe to do so.
  • Restrain, assault, use force, or physically remove employees, customers, or other individuals who refuse to comply with this Order when it would not otherwise be legal to do so.
  • Violate other laws, including state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

The order took effect November 18, 2020.