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Hochul announces designation of COVID-19 as airborne infectious disease under state's HERO Act


Tue, Sep 7th 2021 10:10 am

Designation by State Department of Health requires all employers to implement workplace safety plans to help protect workers from COVID-19
√ Law protects employees from retaliation for making a complaint about employer's failure to comply with the law or adopted plan

Governor Kathy Hochul announced  the commissioner of health designated COVID-19 “a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health” under New York state's HERO Act, which requires all employers to implement workplace safety plans in the event of an airborne infectious disease, helping to prevent workplace infections.

The NY HERO Act mandates extensive new workplace health and safety protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the law, all employers are required to adopt a workplace safety plan, and implement it for all airborne infectious diseases designated by the New York State Department of Health. Employers can adopt a model safety plan as crafted by the New York State Department of Labor, or develop their own safety plan in compliance with HERO Act standards.

"While we continue to increase our vaccination numbers, the fight against the delta variant is not over, and we have to do everything we can to protect our workers," Hochul said. "This designation will ensure protections are in place to keep our workers safe and support our efforts to combat the virus and promote health and safety."

The HERO Act's purpose is to ensure businesses are prepared with protocols and resources to protect their employees and the public from the spread of airborne infectious diseases, like the coronavirus delta variant.

Under the HERO Act, the DOL, in consultation with the DOH, has developed a new airborne infectious disease exposure prevention standard, a model airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan, and various industry-specific model plans for the prevention of airborne infectious disease. Additional information and industry-specific templates for employers are available on the DOL's website.

Mario Cilento, president of New York State AFL-CIO, said, "I thank Gov. Hochul for taking decisive action, particularly on Labor Day, to ensure the critically important NY HERO Act is applied as intended, to protect workers from COVID-19 and future communicable disease events. From day one, Gov. Hochul promised to work collaboratively with the Legislature and labor to deliver for working people, and this action fulfills that promise.”

Pat Kane, RN executive director of the New York Nurses Association, said, "I thank Gov. Hochul for making workplace health and safety a priority by acting on the NY HERO Act on this Labor Day. This will ensure our nurses and all working people will finally have their rights to a safe working environment during the COVID-19 pandemic enforced and protected."

Stuart Appelbaum, president, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, "As the pandemic has highlighted yet again, workplace safety must be prioritized. We need the enforceable standards at the state level provided in this act to keep all working New Yorkers safe. No worker should be forced to sacrifice their health and safety in order to earn a living. We thank Gov. Hochul for announcing that the commissioner of health has designated COVID-19 a serious risk to public health under the NYS Hero's Act. This is the appropriate way to celebrate Labor Day in 2021."

Teamsters Joint Council 16 President Thomas Gesualdi said, "Teamsters and other essential workers stayed on the job through the height of the pandemic, often without the protections they needed to be safe, to get our state through the crisis. As the delta variant continues to circulate and more New Yorkers return to work, this designation will ensure that workers have the enforceable standards they need to do their jobs safely and go home to their families. We commend Gov. Hochul for taking this action to protect our essential workers."

Beverley Brakeman, regional director, United Auto Workers Region 9A, said, "There is no more fitting tribute to honor Labor Day today, and all the workers still working during the COVID-19 pandemic, than to fully implement the NY Hero Act. We thank Gov. Hochul for her leadership in telling employers that they must provide their workers, the lifeblood of their businesses, with a safe working environment. Fully implementing the NY Hero Act, that labor and community groups worked together to achieve, is a great first step."

Hochul’s team said, “The plans adopted by employers must address a number of safety measures, including but not limited to: employee health screenings, masking and social distancing requirements, workplace hygiene stations, workplace cleaning protocol, quarantine protocol, and building airflow technology.

“Employers are required to distribute their work safety plan to all employees and post it in a visible and prominent location within each worksite.

“Additionally, the HERO Act includes anti-retaliation protections for employees, which prohibit discrimination or adverse actions taken against an employee for following the requirements of these plans, reporting concerns on the implementation of a plan, or refusing to work.”

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