By Patrick Connelly, originally published in Buffalo Law Journal, Buffalo Business First on Nov 25, 2020, 6:00am EST.

Do businesses have to apply again for essential status? Here’s what to know.

It feels like déjà vu in some ways for attorneys in business and employment law.

There are plenty of questions about New York state’s latest pandemic restrictions in the Buffalo-Niagara region and how they come into play with the zone progressions from yellow to orange and, potentially soon, to red.

The state has outlined what types of businesses are essential. In the spring, though, some had to apply to Empire State Development for essential status.

“There is a high likelihood that if you were essential before, you are still essential now,” said Vincent Miranda, partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP.

Businesses should review Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order as well as take a look at available guidance online, he said. Some minor revisions were made to the initial list from March.

“With respect to the recreation category, the state has put more discretion in the hands of local government to determine whether low-risk recreational activities should be open,” Miranda said.

Miranda said there’s a more streamlined approach for the construction industry, allowing projects to continue.

For businesses that are open, Miranda said, it is imperative for them to remember they are still bound by the reopening guidance for their particular industry classification.

Craig Bucki, partner at Phillips Lytle LLP, said the state has introduced an online tool that assists businesses as they navigate their status.

“It’s a virtual calculator, almost, if you will,” he said.

The Business Reopening Lookup Tool allows anyone to input data to see if the business is eligible to remain open. It also directs to industry-specific public health and safety guidelines for those that can be open.

Bucki said the way the state defines an essential business has become more user friendly.

“What we have seen over time since March is the state, in the process of getting essential business applications that were not covered by the initial guidance, has updated its guidelines based on the applications it had received,” he said. “It should be easier now for a business to determine whether it satisfies the guidelines.”