Back To Business Re-opening Toolkit

New York state requires businesses to develop plans to protect employees and consumers, make the physical work space safer and implement processes that lower risk of infection in the business. This toolkit provides recommendations, procedures and considerations to develop safe, effective, and thorough re-opening plans. All businesses should also refer to CDC guidance, Gov. Cuomo's New York Forward re-opening guidelines, and local authorities for the phased re-opening of industries, and current health and safety protocols. This guidance is intended for informational and planning purposes only.

Download our Back to Business Re-opening Overview for a high level checklist as you develop your re-opening plan.

Pre-opening Considerations 

Workplace Safety

Workplace safety. Employers must ensure workplaces are as safe as employees and customers may have fears of returning to business as usual. Preparing for and communicating how safety is a top priority will allay fears and increase brand loyalty. Workplace and work–mode redesign considerations should be a top priority.

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Safety measures might include:

  • Understanding and complying with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) record-keeping and reporting obligations:
    • Identify positions, if any, with the potential for occupational exposure to the coronavirus.
    • Review OSHA regulation 29 CFR § 1904 to determine work-relatedness of illnesses.


Recall Procedures

A plan should outline how and when employees will return to work or the worksite to create an organized and controlled approach. All employees returning on the same day at the same time could be overwhelming and possibly unsafe.

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Things to consider include: 

  • Phasing-in employees returning to work:
    • Use seniority or other nondiscriminatory factors for selection.
    • Consider adopting a work share program or SUB plan if bringing employees back on a reduced schedule.
    • Determine schedule changes to provide the greatest protection to workers.
  • Creating a plan for employees in high-risk categories for infection to return to work:
    • Consider allowing employees to work from home or remain on leave until they feel comfortable to return.
    • Determine increased measures to protect employees when working onsite, including isolated workstations, additional PPE as requested, fewer days in the office, etc.
  • Notifying the state unemployment agency of employees recalled to work. This is a state requirement and will help save on unemployment taxes for those who choose not to return to work.
  • Determining how to handle employees who are unable or unwilling to return to work:
    • Employees who are fearful of returning to work.
    • Employees who have family obligations that interfere with the ability to return to work.
    • Employees who remain under quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19.
Employee Benefits

Whether employees remained on the employer’s benefits plans or not, certain notices or actions may be required to stay compliant. Communicating these changes to employees should be done as soon as possible.

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Review such issues as:

  • Group health insurance
    • Eligibility — predetermine waiting-period issues due to leave or reinstatement; review any revised eligibility requirements during the layoff or furlough; and determine if those changes will be revoked and when.
    • Ensure coverage changes, such as adding telehealth benefits, and services now not subject to deductibles have been incorporated into the plan.
    • If employee premiums were paid during leave, determine how or if the employer will recover those costs from employees.
  • Flexible spending accounts
    • Review Dependent Care Assistance Program election changes with employees to ensure their new or revised elections are correct.
    • Over-the-counter medical products are now allowed under flexible medical accounts on a permanent basis and should be included in plan documents and communications.
    • Address new flexible spending account elections and allowable changes with employees.
  • 401(k) or other pension plans
    • Review eligibility issues due to layoff or furlough.
    • Consider any break in service issues or counting years of service concerns.
    • Review any in-service loans employees may have or will want to take, including eligibility and pay back procedures.
  • Paid leave 
    • Review required leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), ensure employees understand the eligibility requirements and provide them with a policy. Create a way to track time used and collect supporting documentation for tax credit purposes.
    • Determine if there will be company PTO policy changes, including increasing or decreasing paid leave benefits, or additional restrictions in using paid leave.
    • Understand the coordination of leave benefits and communicate these to employees as needed.

Employers may have made compensation changes during the crisis or may need to make them in order to re-open. The disruption’s effect on compensation policies going forward will also need reviewing and communicating to affected staff. 

Things to address include:

  • How employers will handle any missed annual pay increases and if those will be applied retroactively.
  • Will pay cuts be made or revoked? Understand how to reduce salaries for exempt employees, if necessary.
  • Determine if employee status changes — exempt to nonexempt or full- to part-time status — are needed to re-open or if those already made will continue.
  • How will bonuses be affected, including eligibility for or continuation of, etc.
  • Will hazard pay be offered or revoked?
  • Consider a pay equity audit as workers return, as pay may have been reduced or frozen and may have impacted women differently.

Establishing a clear communication plan will allow employees and customers to understand how the organization plans to re-open or re-establish business processes.

Topics may include:

  • How staying home if sick and physical distancing policies are being used to protect workers and customers.
  • Detailed training on new workplace safety and disinfection protocols that have been implemented.
  • Have exposure-response communications ready for affected employees and customers.
  • Have media communications ready to release on topics such as return-to-work timetables, safety protections in place, and how the company is supporting its workers and customers. Prepare media response for workplace exposures.

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New-Hire Paperwork

Employees returning to work who remained on the payroll would generally not need to complete new paperwork. However, for those separated from employment, such as laid-off workers, it may be best to follow normal hiring procedures. 

  • Determine employment application and benefits enrollment requirements for rehired workers.
  • Decide whether full or adjusted orientation procedures will be utilized.
  • Submit new-hire reports for new and rehired workers.
  • Notify state unemployment agencies of recalled workers, whether rehired or not.
  • Address I-9 issues:
    • If completed remotely, complete in person upon return to the workplace.
    • Update any expired work authorization documents or make note of which need updating as soon as new documents are received by the employee.
    • Determine if employees should complete Section 3 of their original I-9 or complete a new I-9 form.
Policy Changes

It is no longer business as usual, and employers will likely need to update or create policies to reflect the new normal. Some examples include:

  • Adjust paid-leave policies to reflect regulatory requirements and business needs.
  • Relax attendance policies to encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Clarify time-off request procedures to indicate when time-off can be required by the employer, should sick employees need to be sent home.
  • Implement flexible scheduling options allowing for compressed workweeks and flexible start and stop times.
  • Adjust meal and rest break policies to stagger times and processes implemented to encourage physical distancing.
  • Update travel policies to reflect essential versus non-essential travel and the impact of domestic or global travel restrictions.
  • Detail telecommuting policies to reflect the type of work that is able to be done remotely and the procedures for requesting telework.
  • Revise information technology policies to reflect remote work hardware, software and support.

Employers with a unionized workforce have the Labor Agreement to consider and Union Leadership to support the successful implemention of a re-opening plan. Additional considerations may include:

  • Determining obligations to bargain when implementing changes to mandatory bargaining subjects, such as wages and benefits.
  • Identifying the need to add a force majeure clause into a collective bargaining agreement to protect the employer from contractual obligations during an event that is beyond the employer’s control.
  • Determining obligations for hazard pay under Section 502 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) during abnormally dangerous conditions.
  • Review the existing Labor Agreement, specifically lay off and rehire articles to see if the process language already exists to support a re-opening plan; if not, contact Union Leadership to advise them of unforeseen needs for this unique re-opening and request to bargain the re-opening plan.
  • U.S. Federal Mediation Service is available FREE of charge to assist in this process.
  • Go to the NYS DOL and US DOL web sites for updated wage and hour and loss of medical benefits (COBRA) information.

Operational Considerations

Physical Space

Physical Space

  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles.
  • Provide soap and water in the workplace. If soap and water are not readily available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If hands are visibly dirty, soap and water should be chosen over hand sanitizer.
  • Place hand sanitizer in multiple locations to encourage good hand hygiene practices.
  • Best practices for food operations and other manufacturing assembly lines.
Staff Protocols

Staff Protocols

  • Consider assigning a person to rotate throughout the workplace to clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Consider scheduling handwashing breaks, so employees can wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Consider scheduling a relief person to give cashiers and service desk workers an opportunity to wash their hands.
  • Cross-train your essential workforce to wear as many hats as possible during slower periods of recovery.
  • Screening employees is an optional strategy. There are several methods to protect the employee conducting the temperature screening. The most protective methods incorporate social distancing (maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others), or physical barriers to eliminate or minimize the screener’s exposure due to close contact with a person who has symptoms during screening.
  • Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, the importance of hand hygiene, and coughing and sneezing etiquette, at the workplace entrance and in other workplace areas where employees will see them.

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Cleaning Protocols

Cleaning Protocols

  • At least once a day clean and disinfect surfaces frequently touched by multiple people, including door handles, desks, phones, light switches and faucets.
  • Machinery or equipment not accessible to employees or that has not been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19, will not present an exposure hazard.
  • If machinery or equipment are thought to be contaminated and can be cleaned, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations. First, clean dirty surfaces with soap and water. Second, disinfect surfaces using products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2 and are appropriate for the surface.
  • Machinery or equipment thought to be contaminated and cannot be cleaned can be isolated. Isolate papers or any soft (porous) surfaces for a minimum of 24 hours before handling. After 24 hours, remove soft materials from the area and clean the hard (non-porous) surfaces per the cleaning and disinfection recommendations. Isolate hard (non-porous) surfaces that cannot be cleaned and disinfected for a minimum of seven days before handling.
  • Disinfecting tips:

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Customer Interactions

Customer Interactions

  • Consider options to increase physical space between employees and customers, such as opening a drive-through, erecting partitions and marking floors to guide spacing at least six feet apart.
  • Discourage handshaking.
  • CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Cloth face coverings may prevent people who don’t know they have the virus from transmitting it to others. These face coverings are not surgical masks or respirators and are not appropriate substitutes for them in workplaces where masks or respirators are recommended or required.
  • Encourage customers to use touchless payment options, when available. Minimize handling cash, credit cards, reward cards and mobile devices, where possible.
  • When exchanging paper and coin money:
    • Do not touch your face afterward.
    • Ask customers to place cash on the counter rather than directly into your hand.
    • Place money directly on the counter when providing change back to customers.
    • Wipe counter between each customer at checkout.

Strategic Considerations 

Business Continuity Plans

Employers have learned valuable lessons regarding their business continuity plans. Now is the time to review and revise the plan to prepare for future emergencies.

  • Implement a business continuity plan, including infectious disease control, if a plan did not exist prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Amend existing plans to include the latest emergency information, such as updates on epidemics and workplace considerations or changes in protocols for responding to global disasters.
  • Update plan resources and contact information to ensure accuracy.
  • Establish a pandemic task force to continuously monitor external and internal data and implement appropriate protocols. Recognize the possibility of additional closings during this current pandemic as COVID-19 infections may rise and fall again, triggering more stay-at-home orders and supply chain disruptions.
  • Practice the new or revised emergency plans to ensure employees know what to do and to find any missing parts that need to be addressed before another emergency occurs.
Capital Resource Planning
  • Review how much capital has been secured to sustain the business beyond the first month of operation.
  • Funnel profits or payments into your cash reserves.
  • Maintain the essential workforce while tightly controlling additional labor.
  • Leverage new capital investment to prepare a cash reserve.
  • Diversify or adopt additional revenue-generating services.
  • Follow requirements for federal resources, including PPP, to ensure maximum forgiveness.
  • When considering cash flow, look for flexibility in your fixed payments. Explore anything that can be deferred or suspended.

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Timing of Re-opening

Pick the right time to re-open by planning and budgeting for a necessary period of re-staffing and re-training to bring the business back to life responsibly, and target a return to market that will be sustainable in the long-term.

  • Voluntary or mandatory restrictions have been lifted - Gov. Cuomo’s Phased Plan to Re-Open
  • Virus Testing or Antibody Testing are low cost and available locally.
  • Other businesses in your industry have re-opened and are active.
  • Essential staff have been rehired and are able to get to work safely.
  • Activate social media and PR plans to notify guests you are back in business.
Ongoing Communications
  • Employers should acknowledge employee fears about returning to work.
  • Develop regular communications strategies, including rapid response procedures for internal and external audiences.
  • Consider wayfinding and social distancing signage for customer-facing spaces.

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Remote Work

Telecommuting may have proven to work well during the pandemic for some employers and employees. It should be evaluated both as a short-term emergency tool to survive the next year and as a permanent work/life balance and cost-saving measure.

Actions to consider include:

  • Allowing remote work to continue where possible to keep employees safe.
  • Staggering weeks in office and at home among team members, or part-time remote work on alternate weekdays.
  • Responding to employee requests to continue to work from home, including long-term arrangements.
  • Updating technology to support virtual workers.
  • Analyzing long-term cost savings or impact of offering permanent remote work.
Assess Your Essential Functions

Employers should evaluate the reliance that others and the community have on their services or products.

  • Be prepared to change business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., prioritize existing customers or temporarily suspend some of your operations).
  • Identify alternate supply chains for critical goods and services. Some good and services may be in higher demand or unavailable.
  • Talk with companies that provide businesses with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
  • Talk with business partners about response plans. Share best practices with businesses in the community (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce and associations, to improve community response efforts.

Additional Resources

New York State Re-opening Guidance

New York Forward Re-opening Plan

New York Forward is Governor Cuomo’s phased plan for re-opening the state. The plan focuses on getting people back to work and easing social isolation without triggering renewed spread of the virus or overwhelming the hospital system. Under the plan, the state will re-open on a regional basis as each region meets the criteria necessary to protect public health as businesses reopen.

Here is What Businesses Need to Know:

  • Industries Phased Re-opening - Current list of industries that are able to re-start operations under each phase
  • Re-opening Lookup Tool - Businesses can input the location and nature of their operations to determine if their business is eligible to re-open. The tool will provide the relevant guidance materials for re-opening safely, and the public health and safety standards with which the business must comply. The tool can be used for both essential and non-essential businesses.
  • Detailed Guidelines - To begin re-opening businesses need to review the state’s guidelines specific to their industry, and provide a digital signature affirming they have read and understand the document.
  • Safety Plan Template - Businesses re-opening must develop a written safety plan, and can fill out this this template or develop their own safety plan.
  • ESD FAQs - Empire State Development has issued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on New York Forward and business re-opening.
  • Criteria for Regions to Open – the state has issued metrics to guide determinations on regional re-openings.
  • Regional Monitoring Dashboard - Communities can track progress towards re-opening.
Industry Specific Resources

Arts & Entertainment





Health Care




Office Buildings





Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Best Practice Posters
Quick Links

Quick links to additional external information sources pertaining to re-opening across industries:

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