State businesses gear up for infectious disease mandates

ALBANY — New York’s business community is gearing up to comply with another new state mandate, this one requiring employers to have a plan for protecting workers from airborne infectious diseases.

The rules flow from the HERO Act, legislation that was passed in May and was triggered over the Labor Day weekend by Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration.

“Unfortunately, here we are again with rising caseloads (for COVID-19 infections), and so I don’t think it comes as a big surprise the Department of Health has made the decision that the plans have to be applied in workplaces,” said Ken Pokalsky, the vice president of the Business Council of the State of New York.

Deserve safety

Unions such as the New York Nurses Association have been pressuring state officials to implement the provisions of the HERO Act, saying their members need to know their employers have taken steps to counter the spread of infectious diseases.

“More and more New Yorkers are returning to work and they deserve to be able to do their jobs without being exposed to COVID-19,” unions and the New York Immigration Coalition declared in a letter to Hochul last month.

Pokalsky said most employers are able to use the work that went into reopening plans for when restrictions on commerce were lifted as the pandemic eased earlier this year.

Those plans, he said, “resulted in very low transmission in the workplace.”

“We are wearing masks whenever practicable and we’re doing social distancing when mask wearing isn’t practicable,” he said. “We are doing the basic hand-sanitization and workplace cleaning.”

By Nov. 1

The Business Council will be guiding its member businesses and chamber groups with tips on how to stay in compliance with the mandate.

State officials could eventually build on the requirements as the infection rates evolve, Pokalsky noted.

Businesses with at least 10 employees will also be required to have workplace safety groups by Nov. 1.

Calls for delay

The law gives employees the right to refuse to work if they have a “good faith” belief the employer is tolerating an unsafe practice in the workplace.

The law will be enforced by the state Labor Department. That agency is led by Roberta Reardon, who was initially appointed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo but remains in the leadership position under Hochul.

Groups that recently urged Hochul to hold off on issuing the emergency declaration for the HERO Act requirements included the North Country Chamber of Commerce, the Niagara USA Chamber, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, the Food Industry Alliance of New York State and the New York State Restaurant Association.


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