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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

How to determine which employees must work remotely

This guidance is intended to help you determine if your Philadelphia business is required to operate with a fully or partially remote workforce.

Businesses in Philadelphia are required to have their workers work remotely unless:

  1. the operations involve the direct and in-person provision of services (such as medical services or child care services) or on-site provision of services (such as construction); or
  2. it is otherwise impossible to conduct the business remotely. If remote work is possible for some but not all workers, those for whom it is possible must work remotely.

In-person work when remote work is possible contributes to the community spread of COVID-19 and must stop. Remote work makes working safer for everyone, including those working on-site who benefit from the resulting crowd reduction.

A reduction in productivity due to remote work is not a sufficient justification for maintaining in-person operations when remote work is possible.

If a business has in the past operated remotely and the business has not experienced a substantial change making it impossible to operate remotely (e.g., an essential data server that is no longer accessible remotely), then the business must now operate remotely.

Examples of when it is impossible to work remotely:

  • Workers provide face-to-face services to members of the public that cannot be provided remotely and are allowable under applicable public health orders.
  • Workers support the provision of such face-to-face services and cannot do so remotely (e.g., security, maintenance, or custodial services).
  • On-site equipment essential for workers to complete their work cannot be accessed securely from remote locations.
  • Workers store, retrieve, construct, manufacture, or otherwise handle materials and supplies on-site in ways that are essential to the functioning of the business.
  • Workers lack resources at home that would permit them to conduct essential functions of their work remotely (e.g., internet access, or specialized office-based equipment), and the business is making or has made a reasonable, good faith effort to supply those resources.
  • Remote work would violate federal, state, or local law.
  • Temporary on-site work is necessary to facilitate remote work (e.g. to obtain files or set up remote access).

Case #1:

An office-based business manages the human resources and other administrative functions for a chain of grocery stores. Workers regularly interact with each other but not members of the public. In-person meetings can be conducted virtually, and necessary communication can occur via e-mail, telephone, or other virtual means. Data essential for work can be accessed securely from remote locations, and the business has not identified a legitimate reason why it would be impossible for the business to operate remotely.

  • This business must operate remotely.

Case #2:

A hospital provides acute medical care across a wide variety of specialties to members of the public. The hospital has an on-site laboratory with technicians who do not interact with members of the public. The hospital also has a billing department that does not interact with members of the public.

  • It would be impossible for this business to operate with a fully remote workforce. Healthcare workers who provide emergency or inpatient health care services cannot provide their services remotely. Laboratory technicians rely on specialized equipment to conduct the essential functions of their work, so their work cannot be conducted remotely. The workers in the billing department can complete their work remotely, so they must work remotely.

Case #3:

A wholesale distribution business is headquartered in a facility that consists of a warehouse, where workers load products onto trucks for delivery to retail stores, and an office. The CEO and other members of the executive and administrative staff work in the office, but sometimes visit the warehouse to talk to warehouse supervisors or for other purposes. Some of the office-based administrative staff are responsible for on-site auditing, which requires them to view inventory in person. A security worker monitors cameras in the warehouse from the security desk located in the office.

  • It would be impossible for warehouse workers responsible for loading trucks to do their work remotely. However, the executive and administrative staff who work in the office can and must work remotely, unless there is a specific circumstance that makes it impossible for them to do so. Conversations with warehouse supervisors can occur via phone or other virtual means, so they would not justify on-site work. On-site auditing requiring workers to view inventory in person, and security services requiring close proximity for emergency response, cannot be conducted remotely.

Any in-person business operations must be conducted in accordance with all applicable restrictions and requirements, including the City’s COVID-19 guidance. Businesses must ensure that workers and visitors properly wear masks and maintain sufficient physical distance. Businesses are responsible for reviewing and complying with industry-specific restrictions and requirements (e.g., staggered scheduling, plastic barriers, crowd reduction, and sanitation).

Please note that the City of Philadelphia has an anti-retaliation law in effect that prohibits retaliation against workers related to COVID-19 safety concerns, including violations of remote work requirements. Furthermore, improper in-person work arrangements may result in fines and other penalties.

You are strongly encouraged to retain records substantiating any determination that remote work is impossible. The City’s Department of Public Health or Department of Labor may request a justification for your determination that it is impossible to operate with a fully or partially remote workforce.