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What the NY HERO ACT Means for Hudson Valley Workers and Businesses

As of Wednesday, May 19, New York State adopted a new mask guidance: immunocompromised and unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and social distance, but fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear a mask or social distance. Masks are still required on public transit, in nursing homes, homeless shelters, jails and prisons, schools and health care facilities.

At the same time, New York State also passed the Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act), which mandates new health and safety protections in the workplace for all airborne infectious diseases (not just COVID-19). Here’s what businesses and workers need to know:

  1. The Department of Labor will create new, industry specific safety standards which are not yet defined, by June 4, 2021. The standard will differentiate between different industries and will address:
  • Employee health screening requirements
  • Face covering policies
  • Personal protective equipment standards
  • Social distancing
  • Cleaning and disinfecting protocols
  • Compliance with isolation or quarantine orders
  • Proper airflow and ventilation

Businesses will have to either meet the standards that are set, or come up with their own standard that either meets or exceeds what the Department of Labor comes up with. The plan will have to be posted in the workplace and distributed to all employees.

  1. Once the standard is created, it will be illegal for businesses to retaliate against employees for reporting violations or concerns, or for refusing to work in an environment where the employee in good faith believes they’re being exposed unreasonably.
  2. The Department of Labor will be able to fine non-compliant businesses at least $50 a day for failing to adopt the relevant disease prevention plan, and between $1,000 to $10,000 for failure to comply with the plan.
  3. Employers with more than 10 employees will be required to allow employees to form a joint labor-management workplace safety committee, where employees can raise health and safety concerns, review policies, participate in government site visits, and attend meetings and trainings. These committee must be allowed to be formed after November 1, 2021.
  4. Employees will have the right to bring a lawsuit seeking relief against an employer for failing to comply with the law, with damages up to $20,000 unless the business demonstrates a good faith attempt to comply with the relevant standards.

Although the bill was signed into law, there are still additional amendments that are in the works, including a 30-day grace period for a business to fix known issues or violations as they are reported, and advance notice to employers before any litigation begins.

As with any kind of workplace safety violation, when there is a known violation that the employer knew about and/or was negligent in allowing to exist, it is possible that employees who are harmed as a result of that negligence could sue for compensation. If you are injured in any way in the workplace, and the cost of your injuries exceeds what you can recover from workers compensation or other sources, give us a call at 845-600-0000 to set up a free personal injury consultation at our offices in Kingston or Poughkeepsie.