NY Hero Act to bolster workplace safety

ALBANY — New York employers will have to improve workplace safety as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the NY HERO Act, or the New York Health and Essential Rights Act, into law last Wednesday, requiring state regulators to implement new minimum standards for workplace safety.

The law looks to bolster protections against airborne illnesses as COVID exposed weaknesses in state law that may have helped fuel the virus’ spread through health-care facilities and other workplaces, advocates said.

“Too many workers have already sacrificed their health for our community’s benefit. The New York HERO Act will honor their efforts by giving workers the tools to protect themselves while on the job,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, D-Queens.

“I appreciate the efforts of so many advocates and organizers who made this success possible.”

The regulations will need to include protocols on testing, protective equipment, social distancing, hand hygiene, disinfection and engineering controls.

The law also protects employees from retaliation if they raise concerns about the law being violated, and it requires workplaces to set up health and safety committees.

Legislators said the law is the first of its kind in the country to mandate permanent standards to guard against airborne infectious diseases in the workplace, such as COVID.

Cuomo has enacted executive orders and regulations to protect against COVID in the workplace, but now there is a state law to address the standards that need to be followed.

Still, in signing the bill, Cuomo said companies will be given time to address any existing violations before being hit with penalties or fines under the new law. Business groups have raised concerns over the mandates.

He also said in his approval message that he and Legislature have agreed to some technical changes to ensure specific timelines are met for employers to comply with the looming requirements.

In a statement Thursday, Cuomo said the law creates “clear, enforceable health and safety standards that private employers have to follow to keep their employees, and by extension their communities, safe.”

“This is a historic step forward for working people and a preventative measure that will ensure we’re better prepared for the next public health crisis,” Cuomo said.

The state Business Council said the law allows workers to sue employers for violations of safety standards of up to to $20,000 per violation.

But the group said Cuomo is looking to require notice to employers before any lawsuits can be filed and a 30-day “cure period” before any litigation could start.

“We appreciate efforts by the administration and some lawmakers to make the so-called HERO act more workable for employers, especially small employers,” the Business Council said in a statement.

“However, we still see this legislation as going well beyond what is necessary to assure that workplaces are safe for employees and customers during public health crises.”

Unions, however, support the law, saying it is critical to ensuring the safety of workers — particularly during infectious disease outbreaks.

“After more than a year of this public health crisis, we are finally standing up for our essential workers and taking real action by ensuring there are enforceable health and safety standards that employers must abide by,” the Communications Workers of America said in a statement.


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