Yellow traffic light with yellow color, 3D rendering isolated on white background

Let’s posit you have operations in Pennsylvania, where I live, and those operations are in located in one of the Northcentral or Northwestern Counties (including Erie) that went to Yellow Phase on May 8th, or one of the Southwestern Counties (including Pittsburgh) that are going to Yellow Phase on May 15th. Now you’re probably trying to figure out just what Yellow Phase means, am I right? I’ve been trying to figure it out myself.

First, here’s is what NOT to do:  Don’t look at the color-coded chart the news media keeps showing. This is the equivalent of a sound bite.

Instead, there are two key documents you need to read and understand:  (1) the Pennsylvania Life Sustaining Business FAQs and (2) the Governor and Secretary of Health’s Guidance for Businesses Permitted to Operate in the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Note that, as of the time I am writing this blog post late on May 11th, the above links will take you to the most recent versions of the FAQs and Guidance. However, the FAQs in particular change often, and have been not redlined by the Commonwealth, so you should check them for updates regularly. At the same time, I recognize that the government has its hands full, so I’m trying to remain charitable. There is a link to the most current FAQs on the PA Department of Community and Economic Development homepage.

Turning to the documents, there are essentially two steps to deciding if you can reopen during the Yellow Phase:

Step One

Step One is figuring out if your business can in fact reopen. The keys here are FAQ Numbers 3 & 4 , which discuss what businesses cannot open under Yellow Phase.  Those businesses are:

  • Indoor recreation facilities (including bowling , arcades, racquetball and other indoor sports or training, go-kart racing, laser tag, pool halls, trampoline facilities, indoor mini golf, and other similar facilities).
  • Health and wellness facilities and personal care services  (including gyms, saunas, tattoo and piercing shops, tanning, spas, hair salons, nail salons, massage therapy, and other similar facilities).
  • All entertainment venues (including casinos, theaters, concerts, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, racetracks, professional, semiprofessional, or amateur/membership sports teams or clubs, amusement and water parks, carnivals, playgrounds, and other similar facilities).
  • Indoor Shopping Malls, unless the location has an exterior entrance. So, if a location is in a mall, and it does not have a separate outside entrance, it cannot reopen in Yellow Phase.
  • Restaurants and Bars may only open for curbside pickup, takeout or delivery. This is the same as the Red Phase.

There is one very important caveat to this  list:  Even in Yellow Phase, if a business—or portions of a business—can continue to telework remotely, it must continue to handle those functions (such as billing, accounts payable and accounts receivable) remotely. See FAQs 7 and 12.

Step Two

Okay. So you’ve reviewed the FAQs and decided that you can reopen. What now? Assuming your business can reopen in Yellow Phase, Step Two is figuring out what has to be done to operate within the law.

FAQ number 6 says that a business permitted to operate must “strictly adhere to the” Guidance issued by the Governor and Health Secretary, unless that business is subject to a more stringent industry regulation. In that case, it must follow the more stringent regulation.

What does the Guidance say? It is very detailed and should be read thoroughly. Highlights include:

  • For Protection of Employees:
    • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas frequently.
    • Develop before reopening a detailed plan for when the business has been “exposed” to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, including a detailed cleaning plan after closing and waiting 24 hours and notification plans for employees in close contact with potential case of COVID-19.
    • Stagger work start and stop times.
    • Place limits on the number of persons in and use of common rooms.
    • Conduct meetings virtually unless in-person is absolutely necessary; limit necessary meetings to no more than 10 persons.
    • Provide access to soap, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer.
    • Provide face masks, and make masks mandatory at work site.
  • For Protection of Operations and Customers:
    • Conduct business by appointment only, if possible.
    • Limit number of people in location to 50% capacity, require all customers to wear face masks, unless under 2 years of age or with documented medical condition, and all customers must be socially distanced (minimum 6 feet apart).
    • Install shields at registers and checkout areas.
    • Encourage online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery.
    • Designate a specific time for high-risk persons, including those 65 and older, to utilize the business. Must have at least one such period per week.
    • Employees must have a handwashing break at least once every hour.
    • Shopping carts and/or handbaskets must be wiped down after every use.

Any business with inherently close contact between customers and employees is not permitted to reopen. So, if a music or art school-type franchise were to reopen, it would need to ensure instructors were safely masked  AND socially distanced from customers.

Additionally,  I have been recommending clients speak with their insurance agent and/or carrier about any requirements their insurance company may impose. You don’t want to reopen, get sued, and then receive a denial of coverage letter because the carrier imposed safety requirements you did not follow.

Finally, and perhaps of interest to the franchise community, there is special guidance for each of the construction industry, vehicle dealerships and real estate industry in Pennsylvania.

Of course, yellow means proceed with caution, and that is probably the best policy for right now. Good luck, everyone!