I’M EMPLOYED BY AN ESSENTIAL BUSINESS.  DO I NEED TO COME TO WORK?

Once a region reaches the reopening phase that includes certain businesses, those businesses are allowed to have employees report to work with restrictions.  Those restrictions are included in your business’ reopening plan, which your employer must make available to you upon request.  Employers are not under any obligation to allow employees of businesses that were deemed essential 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).

Recently, the CDC began recommending that any individuals who go out in public (including essential workers and patrons of essential businesses) wear cloth masks or face coverings.  Governor Cuomo has ordered that all essential employers provide masks to their employees at no charge to the employee, and that all essential employees who have direct contact with the public wear masks while at work.  Businesses are additionally allowed to refuse service to any customer who does not wear a mask.  These rules regarding masks will be in effect until further notice.

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 to the date on which the individual became unemployed.  Additionally, the work search requirement is being relaxed due to the unavailability of jobs.

Although most businesses have been allowed to reopen since the entire state is now in Phase 4, there are still strict rules regarding social distancing and employee safety.  Individuals can contact the NYS Attorney General to file complaints against businesses that do not follow these rules.  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,” or that is not following social distancing rules for essential employees, can file a complaint online (including anonymously) at https://mylicense.custhelp.com/app/ask.  Individuals can also call (833) 789-0470 or email labor.bureau@ag.ny.gov to file these complaints.  Employees can also file complaints against their employers for violating these provisions by contacting the Department of Labor at https://labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/coronavirus-complaints.shtm.  Your employer is legally prohibited from retaliating against you or punishing you in any way for making a complaint.