COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses

COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses

Issued May 4, 2020, last updated October 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough. But Pennsylvanians have proven that together, we’re tougher.

We’ve seen the positive actions of our businesses, communities, and neighbors flatten the curve. Our united efforts in the face of this global public health crisis is working.

As our communities bounce back, all of us have an important role to play in maintaining our public health and safety.

This guide includes the basics our businesses and workers need to safely get back to work. As you reopen, you will need to follow all federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Red, Yellow, Green Phases

Pennsylvania’s plan for reopening has three phrases: red, yellow, and green. The public health conditions in our counties and regions determines what phase we are in.

In all phases, we must:

  • Wear masks in public.
  • Keep our physical distance of six feet or more.
  • Wash our hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often.
  • Limit group gatherings and crowds.

Knowing if your county is in the red, yellow, or green phase is important. Each phase has different rules for work and group settings.

Check your county’s status.

Read about each phase in this section to see when your business can reopen, and make sure to check out the COVID-19 Guidance and Resources page for more details.

Red Phase

Under the red phase, stay-at-home orders are in effect to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Our grit and determination will get us through this phase. Together, we are digging in to protect ourselves, families, and neighbors.

  • Stay home, and only leave home if you can’t avoid it. We must limit travel to the necessities, like medical treatment or picking up groceries or medicine. We can spend time outdoors for our mental and physical well-being.
  • We can’t gather in groups. That means in-person schools and most childcare centers must close. Nursing homes, other group homes, prisons, and hospitals have restricted visitors.
  • Only life-sustaining businesses can keep their physical locations open. Businesses that are not life-sustaining can offer delivery-only services and may keep workers teleworking. Restaurants and bars can only have carry-out and delivery.

Visit our frequently asked questions for more details about business activities allowed under each phase. Read the section for employers to learn how to keep your workers and the public safe.

Yellow Phase

Our tenacity is paying off when we move to the yellow phase. We must still work hard to limit the virus in our communities, but our economy is powering up. We are cautious and keeping a close eye on our public health data. Restrictions on work and physical interaction are easing, but others remain.

  • Stay-at-home orders end. We still must wear masks to enter a business, keep six feet apart, and follow all the general health and safety rules.
  • Small groups (up to 25 people) are ok. Schools and most childcare centers can reopen by following the rules from the Department of Education. Nursing homes, other group homes, prisons, and hospitals still have restricted visitors.
  • Some businesses can reopen. Telework must continue where possible. Read all the worker and building safety requirements for employers, and check out the COVID-19 Guidance and Resources page for more details.

Two big changes under the yellow phase include:

  • Outdoor dining at restaurants and bars can open, up to 50% occupancy.
  • Retail can reopen. Stores can have to 50% occupancy if you can meet safety requirements. If you can’t meet the safety requirements, you can only offer curbside pickup or delivery.

Some businesses work directly with the public and can’t maintain physical distances of six feet, so must remain closed. You must stay closed if your business is in:

  • Indoor recreation (including indoor malls, bowling, arcades, indoor sports, go-kart, pool halls, and similar facilities)
  • Health and wellness (such as gyms, spas, barbershops, hair and nail salons, saunas, tattoo parlors, massage therapists and other personal care service businesses)
  • Entertainment (like casinos, theaters, zoos, museums, concerts, historical sites, amusement parks, and other group venues)

Green Phase

Reaching the green phase is a real victory. When put to the test, we are proving our resilience. But we aren’t going back to the way things were before. Now is the time to stay alert so we can keep COVID-19 contained.

  • General safety rules are still in place. Keep wearing your mask to enter a business, stay six feet apart, and follow all the general health and safety rules as before. This is our new normal.
  • We can gather in larger groups. Effective 10/9/2020, maximum occupancy for indoor and outdoor events is determined using the maximum occupancy calculator. Schools and most childcare centers must still follow the Department of Education rules for operating. Nursing homes and group care facilities still have visitor restrictions. Prisons and hospitals can decide their own visitor policies for each facility.
  • All businesses can reopen. Please keep teleworking if you can. All businesses, except for restaurants and bars, that were operating at 50% occupancy in the yellow phase may increase to 75% occupancy. To reopen in-person operations you must follow all the worker and building safety requirements for employers. Remember to check the COVID-19 Guidance and Resources page for more details.

There are still restrictions for reopening businesses that work with the public. You must limit occupancy if your business is in one of the following categories:

  • Restaurants and bars can open indoor dining, up to 25% occupancy or up to 50% occupancy with self-certification
  • Indoor recreation can have up to 50% occupancy, but appointments recommended and fitness facilities are directed to prioritize outdoor fitness activities (including gyms, indoor malls, bowling, arcades, indoor sports, go-kart, pool halls, and similar facilities)
  • Health and wellness can have up to 50% occupancy, but customers can enter by appointment only (this applies to spas, barbershops, hair and nail salons, saunas, tattoo parlors, massage therapists and other personal care service businesses)
  • Entertainment may have up to 50% occupancy (like casinos, theaters, zoos, museums, concerts, historical sites, amusement parks, and other group venues)

See frequently asked questions about the new COVID-19 restrictions announced on July 15.

For Employers

There are common things every business must do when reopening in-person locations. You play a critical role in protecting your workers, customers, suppliers, and the general public.

All businesses with in-person operations should follow the building and business safety guidelines issued by the PA Secretary of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These guidelines may change over time, so be sure to check back for updates. All federal, state, and local laws and regulations still apply.

COVID-19 Symptoms

Make sure you know the symptoms of COVID-19. If you or your workers have any of these symptoms, stay home. If anyone comes down with symptoms while at work, send them home immediately. Follow your plan for handling cases of COVID-19.

Symptoms of COIVD-19 include:

  • Fever. Anyone with a temperature 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher should not be at work.
  • Chills. Including repeated shaking with chills.
  • Muscle pain or body aches. 
  • Headache or confusion. 
  • Difficulty staying awake or waking up.
  • Cough. 
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. May have bluish lips or face.
  • Congestion or runny nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • New loss of taste or smell. 
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea. 

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Not everyone who has COVID-19 will have bad symptoms. Some may only have mild symptoms or show no signs of being sick. The virus spreads through the natural moisture (respiratory droplets) we breathe out when we talk, cough, or sneeze.

Safety Checklist

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, limit the chances for infection. We encourage you to keep teleworking where possible. If telework or remote work is not an option, here are the things you need to do to open and operate safely.

  • Everyone must wear a mask. That includes workers and customers. Remember, my mask protects you and your mask protects me.
  • Put up signs about your safety measures. Share the steps you are taking to protect everyone’s health and safety. See the section with printable business safety signs available for download.
  • Limit crowds. Have delivery or pick-up options whenever possible. Offer appointments if you must have customers in your space. If you can’t schedule appointments, limit the number of people to 50% occupancy.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. This includes things like doors, counters, shared equipment or tools, common areas like waiting rooms, breakrooms, bathrooms, and more. If people touch something a lot, clean it a lot. For lower traffic areas, clean between shifts and any other times you clean based on your usual routine.
  • Protect your workers. Provide workers with masks. See the section on sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE). Train your workers about symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if they feel sick.  Make sure they understand the new safety measures everyone must follow. Screen workers for symptoms before they start work. Send home anyone with a temperature 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Schedule hourly hand-washing breaks. Place workstations at least six feet apart. Make sure there is enough room for physical distancing in breakrooms and common areas. For workers dealing with customers, make sure there are physical barriers or shields between them and the public.
  • Keep groups of workers small. Stagger shift start and stop times to keep groups from entering and exiting at the same time. Do the same for scheduled breaks. Hold meetings and trainings virtually. If you must meet in-person, limit the number of attendees. Stay six feet apart and don’t have more than 10 people in a physical meeting. Read the section on gatherings and events for rules about groups.
  • Staff up appropriately. Have a Pandemic Safety Officer in charge of COVID-19 safety. Assign enough workers handle new safety tasks including wellness screenings, cleaning, managing crowd sizes, maintaining order and physical distances, and security.
  • Have a plan for dealing with COVID-19 cases. Make sure workers know the steps to take if exposed to someone with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19. See the section on handling cases of COVID-19.

Printable Business Safety Signs

You must print, sign, and post the COVID-19 Safety Procedures for Businesses near all public entrances and in worker common areas. Signs should be easy to spot. Two sizes are available for download. You need to only hang one version of the sign, so use the size that works best for your printer.

One is for standard legal-sized paper (8.5×14 inches) and only uses one piece of paper.

The second option is for letter-sized paper (8.5×11 inches) and uses two pieces of paper.

Sourcing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Providing PPE to your workers helps protect their health and safety. PPE can include:

  • Masks
  • Face shields
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Medical gowns
  • Gloves
  • Thermometers
  • Cleaning supplies and disinfectants

The high demand for PPE can make it hard to find. To help, we have a list of PPE manufacturers and suppliers in Pennsylvania.

Gatherings & Events

Ask yourself if you really must meet in-person. If you are planning a gathering or event, you need to follow the rules for group sizes, keep physical distances of at least six feet, and restrictions on maximum occupancy.

If you are under the:

  • Red phase, stay-at-home orders are in effect. For businesses allowed to operate in the red phase, you should limit groups. If you must meet for a planned gathering or a sudden event, you can have a maximum of 10 people.
  • Yellow phase, small groups up to 25 people can meet.
  • Green phase, effective 10/9/2020, maximum occupancy for indoor and outdoor events is determined using the maximum occupancy calculator. (See frequently asked questions.)

Keep in mind that there are many kinds of gathering and events. These could include meetings, trainings, concerts, fairs, festivals, sporting events, movies, or theater performances. Be careful to keep all the general health and safety rules in mind as you prepare for group activities.

These rules don’t apply to religious gatherings held by churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, or other places of worship. Though we do encourage religious institutions to follow mask wearing, physical distancing, and other general health and safety measures.

Handling Cases of COVID-19

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should get appropriate medical care. If symptoms are:

  • Mild. Stay home or go home immediately. Rest. Drink fluids. Take acetaminophen to reduce fever. If symptoms get worse, call your healthcare provider.
  • Severe. For serious symptoms, including a fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, call your healthcare provider. If you need to find a healthcare provider, call 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258).
  • If an emergency, call 911. Get emergency medical help if you have trouble breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion, inability to stay awake or wake up, or bluish lips or face.

If your business has exposure to a likely or confirmed case of COVID-19, take the following steps:

  • Keep others out of the areas used or visited by the sick person.  
  • Clean and disinfect. Wait at least 24 hours (or for as long as practical) before cleaning and disinfecting the area visited or used by the sick person. Do the same for all shared areas and equipment used by the sick person.
  • Open windows and doors to let air in. Use ventilation fans to help circulate air.
  • Identify and notify workers who were in close contact with the sick person. Close contact means within six feet for 10 minutes or more up to 48 hours before the first symptoms appeared. Tell workers who have had close contact with someone with possible symptoms of COVID-19. If they develop symptoms, send them home.

Workers with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 can return to work after meeting all three requirements set by the CDC guidelines:

  • 3 days with no fever
  • Symptoms improved
  • 10 days since first symptoms 

Consider changing your normal leave policies to allow for liberal paid time off for workers staying home due to:

  • Having a possible or confirmed case of COVID-19. 
  • Being at high risk. Adults 65 years or older and anyone with serious medical conditions are at higher risk for getting severely sick from COVID-19.


State and local authorities are enforcing business and building safety orders for COVID-19. This includes:

  • Local officials and law enforcement
  • PA State Police
  • PA Department of Health
  • PA Department of Agriculture
  • PA Department of Labor and Industry
  • PA Liquor Control Board

These groups are authorized to enforce business closure orders and safety orders to the full extent of the law.

For Workers

Workers reporting to in-person jobs are at risk for catching and spreading COVID-19. The good news is, you can do a lot to reduce your risk. By following all health and safety measures at work, you’ll be helping to protect your own health and safety. Not to mention the health and safety of your coworkers, suppliers, and customers.

If you’re looking for more specific information, be sure to check out the COVID-19 Guidance and Resources page.

Worker Protections & Responsibilities

Your health and safety are a top priority. Your employer is responsible for protecting you, but you also have a few responsibilities too. You should take a few minutes to:

  • Learn about COVID-19 symptoms. Tell your supervisor if you are sick. Stay home if you have any symptoms.
  • Read the new Safety Checklist all businesses must follow. 
  • Wear a mask. It really reduces the risk of spreading or catching the virus. If you’re not in healthcare or a first responder, a fabric or cloth mask is enough. You can learn more about masks from the PA Department of Health’s mask guidance.
  • Keep your physical distance. Stay at least six feet from others. If you must be closer than six feet, make sure your employer has physical barriers or shields in place.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Scrub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer if you can’t get to a sink.
  • Keep high-touch surfaces and equipment clean. Help disinfect common areas, shared spaces, and shared equipment.

Reporting Health & Safety Violations

There are several options for reporting possible workplace health and safety violations related to COVID-19.

  1. Contact your local health department or a law enforcement agency.
  2. Use the PA Department of Health’s webform to submit a complaint.
  3. If in violation of OSHA guidance, file a complaint at

Unemployment Compensation (UC)

Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefits provide roughly half of your full-time weekly income up to $572 per week. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made changes to the regular Unemployment Compensation program, including:

  • Suspending the Waiting Week. Usually you can’t receive unemployment benefits during your first week of unemployment. Now you can.
  • Temporarily waiving the Work Search and Work Registration requirements for everyone claiming UC. Right now, you do not have to prove you applied or searched for a new job to keep receiving UC benefits. You also do not have to register with

The federal CARES Act expands UC benefits through several new programs:

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