Under New York HERO Act, workers could sue employers for safety violations

New York News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Many employers across New York are implementing new COVID safety standards under the NY HERO Act. This after Labor Day, when Gov. Kathy Hochul designated COVID-19 a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public. 

This means that, under the new NY HERO Act, employers now must put in place workplace safety plans meant to limit the spread of airborne infectious diseases and share those plans with employees.

Marc Cohen, the Chief of Staff at the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, says there has been some mixed reaction to the law. “Businesses don’t want their employees to get sick,” Cohen said. “Businesses want their employees to be happy and healthy, they want their consumers to be happy and healthy, and to frequent their location. And so that in and of itself is enough incentive to do the right thing, without needing to sort of cram additional policies and additional mandates and additional regulations down their throats. And some people do see the New York hero act is doing that.”

However, the law would require businesses that haven’t implemented safety measures to take action like requiring masks or reducing worker interactions, depending on the industry and the likelihood of outbreaks.

“Creating a model airborne infectious disease exposure sort of plan was really important. Small businesses, even larger businesses, can’t be expected to put something like this together, which is what the Act mandates, without having any guide,” Cohen said. “We were very happy to see that the Commissioner of Labor is now required to create a model airborne infectious disease standard.”

The law also allows workers to sue employers for violations of safety standards, up to $20,000 per violation. After those complaints,  there is a period employers have to make any changes. 

“There’s a 30 day cure period to allow an employer to fix the problem once it’s presented by the employee. Unfortunately, we will see—as we do with any policy—we will see people abusing it, and people who are just trying to take advantage, capitalize on an opportunity like this,” Cohen said. “What the updated, the amended legislation allows for is a 30-day cure period for the employer to have some time to fix whatever that problem was.”

Cohen said businesses have the option to implement an industry-specific plan from the state or make their own plans that meet or exceed those standards. Many businesses in New York already had to submit reopening plans to the state, with safety measures in place. Cohen said many employers are already following safety measures, so patrons may not notice much of a difference.

“These plans have been formally put into effect,” he said. “You may not see a whole lot of change from businesses, because chances are, they were already doing more than what was required. Because, again, they want to ensure that they’re setting good standards for their employees and for the public.”

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