New York Requires Employers to Adopt Safety Standards to Reduce Spread of Diseases

June 16, 2021

By: Kimberly Klein and Rebecca Zittell

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State has enacted legislation mandating steps employers must take to minimize the spread of airborne infectious diseases.  On May 5, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act, as amended on June 14, 2021 (collectively, the “NY HERO Act”), to prevent the spread of diseases such as COVID-19 by reducing transmission in the workplace.   

Among the NY HERO Act’s requirements are the adoption of a workplace safety plan and formation of a workplace safety committee.

Airborne Infectious Disease Workplace Safety Plan

By July 5, 2021, the New York State Department of Labor (NYS DOL), in consultation with the Department of Health, must establish industry-specific, model airborne infectious disease exposure prevention standards addressing the following topics: (1) employee health screenings; (2) face coverings; (3) personal protective equipment provided at the employer’s expense; (4) hand hygiene and breaks for handwashing; (5) cleaning and disinfecting of shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces; (6) social distancing; (7) compliance with mandatory or precautionary orders of isolation or quarantine; (8) compliance with applicable engineering controls, such as air flow and ventilation; (9) designating supervisory employees to enforce compliance with the infectious disease standards; (10) compliance with notice requirements to employees and relevant government agencies; and (11) verbal review of the infectious disease standards, employer policies, and employee rights. 

Once the NYS DOL publishes the model standards, employers will have 30 days to either adopt the model plan applicable to their industry or establish their own plan equaling or exceeding the standards in the NYS DOL’s model.  Employers will have 60 days following the NYS DOL publication to provide the prevention plan to their employees.  In addition, employers must post the infectious disease exposure prevention plan in a prominent visible place in the workplace, incorporate the plan in their employee handbook, and distribute the plan to employees upon hire and within 15 days after reopening following a closure due to COVID-19 or other airborne infectious disease.

Workplace Safety Committees

By November 1, 2021, under the NY HERO Act, employers with at least 10 employees must permit their employees to establish one joint labor-management workplace safety committee per worksite. 

The workplace safety committee must consist of at least two-thirds non-supervisory employees selected by non-supervisory employees.  Employers are not permitted to interfere with the selection of non-supervisory employees to serve on the workplace safety committee.

As amended, the NY HERO Act provides that each workplace safety committee must be authorized to: (1) raise health and safety concerns to their employer, to which the employer must respond; (2) review and provide feedback on policies relating to occupational safety and health; (3) review the adoption of workplace policies; (4) participate in government workplace site visits; (5) review employer-filed reports related to the health and safety of the workplace; and (6) schedule meetings during work hours at least once a quarter.  Employers can limit paid quarterly workplace safety committee meetings to two hours and limit training for committee members to four hours.

For questions concerning the NY HERO Act or implementation thereof, please contact Kimberly Klein or Rebecca Zittell.