Employees of essential businesses who cannot work remotely can come into work.  Employers are not under any obligation to allow employees of essential businesses to stay home if they cannot work remotely.  However, employers do have an obligation to take whatever steps necessary to protect essential employees, including allowing remote working wherever possible and enforcing social distancing to the extent possible.  Further, for employers providing both essential and non-essential services, only the essential services are allowed to continue physical operations.  Any non-essential components of the business must either shut down or switch to remote/teleworking (if possible).

Employees of essential businesses who do not feel comfortable working should discuss the matter with their supervisor or HR department to see if they can use PTO or take an unpaid leave of absence.  If an employee of an essential business, or an essential business function, loses their job because they do not want to come to work, they should apply for unemployment benefits.

Employees of essential businesses who cannot come to work because they are over age 60 or have underlying medical conditions should apply for unemployment insurance.  In the application, they should explain why they cannot work.  For all unemployment insurance applicants, applications are being backdated by 2 weeks because of the inability to file.  Additionally, the work search requirement is being relaxed due to the unavailability of jobs.

If an employee is being forced to come into work at a business that is not “essential,” if an essential employee is not being allowed to work remotely despite the availability of technology to do so, or if an employee performing non-essential business functions is being forced to work because other sectors of their employer are essential, they should contact the NYS Attorney General’s office to file a complaint.  The AG’s office has established a telephone line and an email address to take these complaints.  Anyone wishing to report a business that is continuing to operate despite not being “essential” should call (212) 416-8700 or labor.bureau@ag.ny.gov.