WHAT SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE, AND HOW ARE BUSINESSES DEEMED ESSENTIAL?

In order to support social distancing measures, Governor Cuomo has placed restrictions on the types of businesses that can be open, and the amount of staff allowed in non-essential businesses.  The following types of businesses are closed:

  • Indoor malls (stores with dedicated outside entrances are able to remain open for the time being)
  • Bowling alleys
  • Gyms
  • Movie Theatres
  • Amusement Parks and Theme Parks
  • Hair salons, barber shops, tattoo and piercing shops, spas, nail salons, waxing salons and other personal care operations
  • Schools (districts are allowed to have some school buildings open to provide take-out meals to students or to provide child care for first responders and medical personnel)

The following types of businesses are considered essential and are open with no restrictions on staffing levels (please note that some may be restricting non-essential visitors or limiting the hours that they are open to the public):

  • Grocery stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores that sell food
  • Liquor stores
  • Gas stations
  • Pharmacies
  • Restaurants of all types (limited to takeout and delivery options only)
  • Bars (limited to takeout and delivery only - recent changes to the law allow bars to sell cocktails, wine, and beer for takeout in single-serve containers as long as food is also ordered/delivered with the alcohol)
  • Gun stores (by Federal order which superseded state-by-state determinations)
  • Pet stores (grooming services offered by pet stores are required to close even if the store remains open)
  • Hospitals and other medical treatment providers
    • Home health care aides are considered “essential” services, but Medicare has allowed certain home visits to be conducted via telehealth, so long as the visit is part of the beneficiary’s plan of care and does not replace needed in-person services. Additionally, more people now qualify for the determination of “home bound” that will allow them to access the Medicare Home Healthcare benefits.
  • Veterinarians
  • Certain retail stores, including stores that sell food and stores that sell home improvement/construction/home and auto repair supplies (please note that many retail stores have chosen to close their physical locations temporarily and may only be providing goods for sale online, or may have reduced their operating hours)
  • Food trucks that serve items for take-out or delivery only (patrons are advised to maintain social distancing and avoid forming close crowds while waiting for food items)
  • Auto repair shops
  • Essential construction and home repairs only, including but not limited to home improvements needed to save the health, safety, or property of the owners/occupants, and including essential functions performed by skilled tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians
  • Building cleaners, janitors, and maintenance crews
  • Technology support services and telecommunications providers
  • Real estate agents
  • News media
  • Law enforcement, fire services, and security services
  • Banks, insurance companies, payroll firms and accounting firms
  • Mail and shipping services
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Government buildings and government functions
  • Garbage pickup, sewer maintenance, and public sanitation functions

Importantly, ALL non-essential businesses are directed to close or to operate with telework/remote work only as of 8:00pm on March 22, 2020.  The businesses listed above that are authorized to operate with no staffing reductions are considered “essential.”  Additional “essential” organizations are listed here: https://esd.ny.gov/guidance-executive-order-2026

  • Businesses that feel they should qualify as “essential” but are not listed in the link above may apply for an exemption through the Empire State Development Corporation.
  • Businesses or portions of businesses that can operate remotely or through telework are strongly encouraged to do so. If a business is non-essential, telework/remote work is the only way that business can continue to stay open.

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

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.