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New York Governor Signs Covid-19 Worker Protection Law

May 6, 2021, 2:52 AM

Employers in New York State will be required to implement safety standards to help shield their workers from airborne infectious diseases, such as the coronavirus, under legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo late Wednesday night.

The measure (S.1034B/A.2681B), known as the “New York HERO Act,” requires the state Department of Labor, in consultation with the state Department of Health, to create an airborne infectious disease safety standard. The legislation doesn’t set detailed requirements for employers, but the safety standard, once in place, would cover all private employers in the state.

The measure aims to protect workers against future deadly viruses by reducing transmission and community spread, according to the bill.

“I agree with the intent of the bill to ensure all of New York State’s workplaces are safe and that we continue our progress in reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Cuomo (D) wrote in a memo announcing his approval of the measure.

Several states, including California, already are enforcing similar Covid-19 worker protection regulations. New York’s legislation has drawn criticism from business organizations, and has been applauded by unions.

An Amendment

Under the legislation, the New York State labor and health departments would create a model airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan. Employers would be required to either adopt the state plan or put a similar standard in place, according to the measure. Employers would face fines if they fail to implement the state’s model or standards that exceed it.

Businesses that have 10 or more employees would be required to create joint employer-employee workplace health and safety committees to raise issues and evaluate the effectiveness of safety protocols.

An amendment, agreed to by the governor and state legislative leaders, would make technical changes to the bill, “including giving the department of labor and employers more specific instructions in developing and implementing the workplace standards, including a clear timeline, and providing for an immediate requirement for employers to cure violations in order to better protect the safety of workers, and limit lengthy court litigation to those private rights of action, in limited circumstances where employers are acting in bad faith and failing to cure deficiencies,” Cuomo wrote in the memo.

The amendment language wasn’t immediately available on Wednesday.

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins in a statement applauded the amended changes saying they’ll minimize damage and create a layer of protection against predatory lawsuits.

“Private rights of action do nothing to protect workers or help business owners and everything to line the pockets of the powerful personal injury trial lawyer lobby,” Stebbins said. “Business owners should at least be allowed time—a cure period—to remedy violations before they are subjected to costly litigation.”

Labor organizations had been pushing Cuomo to sign the measure to increase protections for essential workers.

“This law is a major new national precedent for how to create enforceable health and safety protections for workers on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic and give workers a voice on the job through health and safety committees,” Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, the Alliance for a Greater New York, an advocacy group of labor and community organizations, said in a news release on Wednesday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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