COVID-19: The Latest New York State Law Developments and What Employers Need to Know

By Katherine L. Wood, Esq.

As expected, New York State continues to release developments related to the COVID-19 crisis.  Since our last state law update on March 24, 2020, we have seen the following developments, which employers should be aware of:

Unemployment Work Search Requirement Waived

With an uptick in layoffs and furloughs, many employers are concerned about affected individuals’ eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits.  Roberta Reardon, the New York State Department of Labor Commissioner, signed an order which aims to ease the burden on recently unemployed individuals.  Commissioner Reardon’s order waives the requirement that individuals must be actively searching for work in order to receive benefits for individuals who applied for benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This update is in addition to the recent waiver of the seven-day waiting period to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. 

100% Reduction of Non-Essential Workforce in Physical Workspace Extended Through April 15, 2020

Governor Cuomo’s recent directive that all non-essential business must reduce their workforce in the physical workspace by 100% has been extended through April 15, 2020.  This date may be extended even further in the future, and employers should pay close attention to future extensions on this requirement.

Empire State Development Corporation Issues New Guidance on What Constitutes an “Essential Business”

Empire State Development Corporation’s guidance on businesses that are considered essential (and thus not subject to the 100% reduction in workforce in the physical workspace) appears to be constantly changing.  Within the last few days, the list of essential businesses has become narrower. Specifically, essential construction, manufacturing, and health care operations have seen revisions to their definitions.  Employers may review the lists of essential businesses exempt from a 100% reduction in workforce here.  Employers who may qualify under a listed essential business should keep a close eye on this list, as a change to the list may render the business non-essential.

New York State Issues Guidance to Employers on COVID-19 Paid Leave

The COVID-19 emergency paid leave law was issued on March 18, 2020, and now New York State has issued guidance to assist employers with understanding and implementing the new law.  The guidance, which can be found here, reassures employers that COVID-19 paid leave is provided through employers’ existing New York State Paid Family Leave and disability benefit insurance.

If an employee notifies the employer that they will be requesting COVID-19 paid leave, COVID-19 paid leave specific forms must be completed by both the employee and the employer.  The form for an employee taking leave for himself is found here.  For employees taking leave for a child, the applicable form is here.  Employees must fill out these forms, and then provide them to their employer to complete.  Employers must return the forms completed with their information to the employee within three business days.

After the employer has completed its portion of the form and returned the form to the employee, the employee will submit the form to the Paid Family Leave or disability benefit insurer within 30 days of the employee’s first day of leave.  The insurer will then decide to pay or deny the employee’s request.

Hurwitz & Fine continues to monitor and analyze these updates and advise employers on matters related to the coronavirus outbreak.  Please contact any member of the firm’s Employment Practices team for guidance on this evolving issue at 716-849-8900 or visit our website at

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