Under a newly passed law, New York employers must create health and safety standards to protect people from airborne infectious diseases.
The Hero Act was signed into law in May 2021. Initially set to go into effect in early June, the standards from state officials will be published by July 5 instead under an amended version of the legislation.
A high level, the law:
- Requires the New York Department of Health to create an airborne infectious disease standard for private employers to use
- Permits the creation of joint employer-employee workplace health and safety committees where there are 10 or more employees
“New Yorkers – especially those who have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic – need and deserve to have health and safety protections in place when they go into work,” Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. “We saw how quickly an airborne disease like COVID-19 was able to spread through workplaces. This is a lifesaving measure that will protect millions of workers who are the backbone of our economy.”
New York Infectious Airborne Diseases Law
New York is the first state in the nation to pass such a law. While the legislation comes on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is aimed at preventing the spread of other infectious diseases, as well.
Meanwhile, New York’s model plan will require employers to adopt it or a similar standard. Many of those standards reflect what employers have gone through during the pandemic:
- Employee health screenings
- Workplace hygiene stations
- Personal protective equipment
- Cleaning and disinfecting
- Social distancing
- Mandatory or precautionary isolation of employees
The Hero Act also provides for anti-retaliation requirements, industry- and worksite-specific plans, posting requirements, and employee communication about the plan.
The joint employer-employee committees are charged with identifying potential safety risks and establishing protocols. Employees who are part of the group are authorized to participate in the creation of the plan, raise concerns and provide feedback.
Lastly, the standards for civil litigation were also amended, providing more employer protection from frivolous lawsuits.
Of course, there are several other coronavirus-related laws that have gone into effect over the past year-plus.
While local guidelines and restrictions often dominate headlines, hero/hazard pay, paid leave for getting vaccinated, new labor law postings and laws making vaccination status as a protected category have also created additional compliance concerns for employers.
Plus, new federal guidance regarding the vaccine and updating local regulations continue to change by the week.
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Employers in New York should prepare for the requirements of the new law, though many of the provisions may already have been put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, the new Hero Act means current practices related to workplace safety may have to remain, along with any new requirements.
Even with the date of the state standards publication being pushed back a month, employers should prepare for the requirements of the new legislation.