Pa. Realtors Association seeks life-sustaining business designation

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors is suing the state to win “life-sustaining” business status for its members.

The suit challenging Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure order, claims most states have granted realtors that status and that Pennsylvania’s closure rules are arbitrary and unclear.

“The three essentials to life are food, clothing and shelter and the governor is preventing Pennsylvanians’ ability to gain shelter,” said PAR President Bill Festa. “Pennsylvania Realtors are responsible for helping people achieve that shelter but across Pennsylvania, first-time homebuyers, single parents, doctors and other emergency workers may be unable to ‘stay at home’ if they’re not able to secure their new home because of these orders.”

PAR CEO Mike McGee said that while the association isn’t aware of anyone specifically left homeless by the industry’s shutdown, it has caused hardships for many people in the process of renting, buying or selling a home.

“Certain aspects of the transaction generally require at least one person to go through a home showing, although more are happening virtually,” he said. “Home inspections, municipal inspections, appraisals in some instances, contractors for repairs and even the physical act of moving from home/home; apartment to apartment.”

McGee said Realtors are obeying the governor’s directive, but feel there are ways such services can be handled safely.

“The association’s goal is to minimize in-person services wherever possible and follow appropriate CDC guidelines surrounding sanitation and social distancing practices where such in-person services are necessary to allow homebuyers and sellers to be able to attain shelter,” McGee said.

He said the PAR has not yet received a formal written response from the state on the matter.

Pennsylvania issues new orders for cleaning life-sustaining businesses

Dr. Rachel Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf. PHOTO SUBMITTED –

Pennsylvania businesses with in-person operations permitted under the governor’s life-sustaining business orders, now have a new set of guidelines for maintaining and cleaning their buildings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed the Building Safety Measures order on Sunday outlining appropriate disease control measures.

In addition to maintaining pre-existing cleaning protocols, the order outlines these new protocols:

  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas routinely in accordance with CDC guidelines, in spaces that are accessible to customers, tenants or other individuals.
  • Maintain pre-existing cleaning protocols established in the facility for all other areas of the building.
  • Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of employees to perform the above protocols effectively and in a manner that ensures the safety of occupants and employees.
  • Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of security employees to control access, maintain order, and enforce social distancing of at least 6 feet, provided the security employees are otherwise responsible for such enforcement.

The measures outlined in the order are for owners of buildings of at least 50,000 square feet used for commercial, industrial or other enterprises, including but not limited to warehousing, manufacturing, commercial offices, airports, grocery stores, universities, colleges, government, hotels, and residential buildings with at least 50 units.

“Based upon the manner of COVID-19’s spread in the commonwealth and in the world, and its danger to Pennsylvanians, I have determined that the appropriate disease control measure is the direction of building safety measures as outlined in this order to prevent and control the spread of disease,” Dr. Levine state in the order.

The order went into effect at 12:01 a.m., April 6.

Lebanon added to Pennsylvania ‘stay-at-home’ orders

Lebanon County was one of seven counties to receive stay-at-home orders from Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine on Tuesday.

Positive cases of COVID-19 are growing every day, causing the state to continue to issue stay-at-home orders for an increasing list of counties.

On Tuesday, Wolf and Levine announced that the list will now include Cameron, Crawford, Forest, Franklin, Lawrence, Lebanon and Somerset counties, bringing the total number of counties to 33.

The order allows for people to leave their homes to maintain their health and safety or that of family members, if they need necessary supplies or services or for necessary travel such as caring for an elderly family member or for non-residents to return to their homes.

Businesses deemed non-life-sustaining must be closed as a part of the order. Life-sustaining businesses like restaurants can continue to offer take-out services.

The orders are to take effect at 8 p.m. and will continue until April 30.

Wolf announced on Monday that Cumberland and Dauphin would be added to the list, and expanded the end date for the orders past April 6.

The counties under stay-at-home orders now include: Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Crawford, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Forest, Franklin, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Somerset, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.

Wolf also said on Monday that he would be continuing the closures of schools and non-life-sustaining businesses until further notice.

Gov. Wolf announces ‘Stay at Home’ order for Lancaster, York

Nine more Pennsylvania counties, including York and Lancaster, have received stay at home orders—bringing the total number of counties to 19.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced on Friday that they would be issuing new stay at home orders to help staunch the spread of COVID-19 in Berks, Butler, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Luzerne, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.

Individuals living in the counties given stay at home orders are asked to only do tasks that are essential to maintain their health and safety or the health and safety of their family, household members and pets.

Businesses already deemed as life-sustaining by the state are exempt from the orders. Pennsylvania’s law enforcement has been tasked with ensuring that residents are aware of the order and will continue to cite any non-life-sustaining businesses who fail to comply with the order.

As of Friday afternoon, Pennsylvania’s positive cases of COVID-19 jumped 531 cases to 2,218 positive cases statewide.

The newest stay at home orders are part of a continued effort by the state to slow the spread of the virus in order to keep hospitals from being inundated with patients and to keep the spread away from older Pennsylvanians and individuals with compromised immune systems.

The 19 counties now included in the Governor’s order include: Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.


Gov. Wolf issues stay-at-home order for 6 counties, extends school closures

Gov. Tom Wolf has issued stay at home orders for six counties and extended school closures for two weeks. –

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order for six counties and extended the closure of schools in the state for another two weeks to help fight the spread of COVID-19. He did not mention any timetable for the closure of non-life sustaining businesses. Those closures were ordered “until further notice.”

The state now has 644 COVID-19 cases in 34 counties, up 165 from yesterday. Six people have now died from the virus. Sixty people have required hospitalization.

The order affects Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe and Montgomery counties.

The Governor did not mention any penalties for violations, however he said he is calling on residents to “do the right thing” and only leave their homes for life-sustaining needs.

State police today enforcing the closure of non-life sustaining businesses, however the governor said police are reporting that few businesses are not complying.

Violators could be cited for violating the order, Wolf said, that is not the goal.

“While there is enforcement if we need to, hopefully everyone will recognize the shared responsibilities,” he said. “This is up for Pennsylvanians to make the right decision.”

He did say thousands of companies have applied for waivers to the closure of physical locations, with a major spike of applications made today. He could not say how many have been approved or denied, but he said state officials are working through the requests at this time.Gov. Wolf issues stay-at-home order for 6 counties, extends school closures

Builders, contractors, seeking exemption from Wolf’s closure order

In a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, officials from the five chapters that make up the Associated Builders and Contractors of Pennsylvania, asked for a waiver for the construction-industry-at-large, and clarification of his executive order to shut down businesses.

There is no doubt the Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic has disrupted and impacted our daily lives and measures are needed to limit the spread, ABC officials said. The construction industry has been doing its part in sharing information, resources, and best practices. Many of its members build the supply chain for the very ‘life-sustaining businesses’ that are required to remain open, they said.

“There is no greater time for our government leaders to provide clear guidance to the business community,” said Joe Perpiglia, ABC Eastern Chapter president and CEO, in the letter. “The governor’s order created chaos and confusion at a time when we need the opposite.”

Others stressed the need to find a reasonable balance between mitigating the health crisis and continuing the essential services the construction industry provides to the community.

“Our members’ main concern is certainly the well-being of their employees,” said

Marianne Hazel, ABC Central Chapter president. “The guidelines and communication flowing from the Department of Health have been very clear and helpful. In fact, our association has passed along these resources during this pandemic. We ask the governor to follow suit and provide us with clarity on the executive order.”

The five chapters are the Central Pennsylvania Chapter; Cumberland Valley Chapter; Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter; Keystone Chapter; and Western Pennsylvania Chapter.

ABC PA represents nearly 1,400 member companies and about 67,000 employees.

Businesses that could apply for a waiver include those that perform life-sustaining construction projects, said Lyndsay Kensinger, spokesperson for Gov. Wolf, in a statement. The state Department of Community & Economic Development is working through the waiver review process right now.

Pennsylvania business shutdown enforcement begins this morning

Starting at 8 a.m., Gov.  Wolf’s order that all non-life sustaining business shut down, will be enforced.


The governor originally said enforcement would begin at 8 p.m., Thursday, but the number of waiver requests coming in for businesses that wanted to be considered life-sustaining led the administration to delay the order.

“We understand the challenges facing these businesses and all Pennsylvanians. We have worked to be responsive and flexible so that businesses can apply for a waiver to keep their physical locations open if they perform life-sustaining work.

A waiver application can be found here.

The governor’s office said that all decisions will be communicated by email and will balance public health, safety, and the security of industry supply chains supporting life sustaining businesses.

Here are the businesses affected by state-wide mandatory closure

To slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations late yesterday, and offered a comprehensive list of those types of businesses affected.

You can read the full list here.

Those that may continue operations include a wide range of businesses, from crop and animal production, to oil and gas extraction, food manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, auto parts accessories and tire stores, gas stations, grocery stores and air and truck transportation. The list also says beer, wine and liquor stores may continue operations.

Those that must close include construction companies, auto dealers, law firms and others deemed non-life-sustaining.

Sean Boyle, CEO of Boyle Construction of South Whitehall Township, said his company is closing and stopping work as of today, however, the company has one virus-related health care project that will continue.

Enforcement actions against businesses that do not close physical locations will begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 21, the governor said.

Gov. Tom Wolf clarifies business closure order, Pa’s COVID-19 cases hit 96

Pennsylvania cases of COVID-19 is up to 96, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Pennsylvania cases of COVID-19 is up to 96, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced.

A total of 879 patients tested negative for COVID-19 virus. She said most testing is being conducted by commercial and hospital testing centers at this point, versus state testing.

So far, officials are not seeing a sustained community spread of the virus, but the health department does expect that will happen, she said. It is important to follow the guidelines set out by the federal and state government to help prevent the virus’ spread.

“Your main job right now is to stay calm, stay home and stay safe,” she said.

Gov. Tom Wolf also clarified Monday’s order that all non-essential businesses close temporarily to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Many people expressed confusion over which businesses were included in the designation of non-essential.

“Non-essential businesses include public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and recreation facilities, including but not limited to community and recreation centers; gyms, including yoga, barre and spin facilities; hair salons and barber shops, nail salons and spas; casinos; concert venues; theaters; sporting event venues and golf courses; retail facilities, including shopping malls except for pharmacy or other health care facilities within retail operations,” a statement said.

Restaurants and bars should close their dine-in facilities, but can continue to offer carry-out, delivery and drive-thru service, and a number of area restaurants have, the governor said.

“According to Wolf, businesses considered 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 and shipping outlets, insurance, banks, gas stations, laundromats, veterinary clinics and pet stores, warehousing, storage, and distribution, public transportation, and hotel and commercial lodging.”

He also said businesses that can have employees work remotely should do so.

“Other businesses, including but not limited to legal services, business and management consulting, professional services and insurance services are encouraged to have employees work remotely or telecommute,” he said. “If that is not possible, they should employ social distancing best practices and be aware of the Trump Administration’s guidance to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.“

Governor Tom Wolf orders all ‘non-essential’ businesses closed

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf orders all non-essential stores, bars and restaurants in the state to temporarily close to help slow the progression of COVID-19. PHOTO/SUBMITTED


Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered all non-essential stores, bars and restaurants in the state to temporarily close to help slow the progression of COVID-19.

Bars and restaurants would be limited to take out and delivery.

Businesses considered to be essential to the public, including grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies will be allowed to remain open.

The governor previously limited the declaration to five, highly effected counties: Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Allegheny.

“This isn’t a decision I’m making likely at all,” he said during a virtual press conference. “This is a decision I’m making because health experts believe this is the only way to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.”

The closures would be effective as of midnight tonight.

The closure would be for two-weeks for businesses considered non-essential, including non-grocery shopping malls, stores, restaurants, bars, gyms, sports venues, hair salons, theaters and similar venues.

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce has a webinar scheduled for business leaders on March 19, which will detail some of the state’s efforts to combat the coronavirus and issues related to the impact on non-essential businesses within the state, including assistance that will be available to them.

“We are committed to keeping all Pennsylvanians safe and healthy, and we are taking every measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said DCED Secretary Dennis Davin. “We continue to report new cases of coronavirus every day, and additional steps must be taken to stop the spread. Therefore, we strongly urge non-essential businesses across Pennsylvania to do their part by temporarily closing to help mitigate the spread of this contagious virus.”

The state Turnpike Commission also made an emergency order that it will not accept cash at any of its toll booths beginning at 8 p.m Monday night.

Meanwhile, both Lehigh and Northampton Counties today declared a State of Emergency. The declaration will help the governing bodies better respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

All schools in the state are also closed for two weeks.

Neighboring New York and New Jersey have made similar declarations.

Pa.’s new overtime rules: Boost, or bane?

Pennsylvania has joined a handful of states that have raised their thresholds for overtime pay above federal levels, which is projected to extend overtime pay to 82,000 additional Pennsylvania workers within two years.

On January 31, the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted to approve final regulations by the Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) that will phase in salary increases over three years.  This year the threshold will be set at the federal level ($35,568 annually).  In 2021 the threshold will be increased to $40,650 (or $780 per week), and in 2022 the threshold will be $45,500 (or $875 per week).

DLI accomplished this by amending regulations in the Pennsylvania Code to update the salary threshold for Executive, Administrative and Professional workers who are exempt from receiving overtime pay, otherwise known as the “white collar exemptions.”  The state based these amendments on statutory law which permits L&I to revise the definitions of those provisions “from time to time” in order to “safeguard the minimum wage rates thus established.”

The last update of the regulations occurred in 1977.

Absent a legal challenge to the regulations, they will take effect upon publication of the rulemaking in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.  The new regulations, however, will have no practical effect on employers or employees this year.  That is because the new regulations merely bring the state threshold up to meet the federal threshold already in place.  As employers are already required to meet this threshold, nothing further need be done this year.

Approximately 61,000 Pennsylvania workers became eligible for overtime pay when the federal regulations increasing the prior threshold of $23,660 took effect this year.  About 34,000 more Pennsylvania workers will be subject to overtime pay in 2021 and another 48,000 in 2022 under the new regulations, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).  These workers could see average estimated increased earnings between $20,257,417 to $22,639,208 per year after final implementation of the salary threshold increase, according to L&I.  EPI estimates that 63% of those affected are women and 15.8% are minorities.

Other provisions of the new regulations allow up to 10 percent of the salary threshold to be satisfied by nondiscretionary bonuses, incentives and commissions, paid quarterly or more frequently.  In addition, the minimum threshold will automatically adjust every three years starting in 2023 and every third year thereafter.

Even if an employee meets the salary threshold for exempt status, however, that is not the end of the inquiry.  The employee must also meet the duties test for each category in order for the employee to be classified as exempt.  The new rules changed the state duties tests to mirror those of federal law.  The trickiest category here is with the administrative exemption, where the employee’s “primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.”  That means that an employee cannot be categorized as exempt if the employee does not exercise discretion and independent judgment as to how the job is performed, even if the salary threshold is met.

Employers have a number of options for dealing with the new rules, in addition to just paying time and a half to employees who become subject to overtime.  They can limit non-exempt employee work to 40 hours a week to avoid overtime costs.  They can keep overall costs relatively the same by reducing the base pay to make up for the extra pay if an employee regularly works overtime, as long as the base hourly rate does not go below the minimum pay rate of $7.25 per hour.  They could also raise non-exempt employee salaries to above the threshold in order to keep them exempt.

Last year, as part of a compromise with Republican legislative leaders, Governor Tom Wolf agreed to back off from his push to raise the overtime threshold in exchange for an incremental minimum wage hike up to $9.50 an hour in 2022.  The Senate passed the bill, but it never came to a vote in the House.

Naturally, there were advocates both for and against this change in the overtime rules.

“Many small business owners submitted comments explaining this excessive expansion of overtime will cause them financial turmoil, leading to fewer hours for employees, and a limit on future promotions for those who have just moved from hourly to salaried positions,” Rebecca Oyler, of the Pennsylvania branch of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said in a statement.

Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said in a statement that he was “disappointed” by the IRRC’s vote.  The Chamber had contended that the new rules would inflict higher costs on employers and possibly force those with thin margins to layoff employees or slash wages and benefits.

L&I cited in its regulatory analysis other comments reflecting positive outcomes from the rules change, however.  Most simply, many workers could see their pay remain the same, but their hours capped at 40 per week, ending uncompensated time spent at work.  L&I received comments citing examples of low-level supervisors in the retail, hospitality and food service industries working 60-80 hours per week without any overtime pay, while making less than a living wage in a low-salary occupation on a per hour basis.  (A living wage is considered $11.45 an hour for a single adult residing in Pennsylvania.)

More free time for workers can mean time to pursue educational goals or a second job to supplement income or gain work experience to enhance earning potential.  Furthermore, DLI states that income gains by lower wage workers could lead to a decrease in the use of public assistance.

Benjamin C. Dunlap, Jr. is managing partner at Nauman Smith, a Harrisburg-based law firm, and concentrates his practice on business and employment law.