The New York Department of Health has now classified COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease under the New York State Health and Essential Rights Act, more commonly known as the HERO Act. This means that businesses must now activate their worksite exposure prevention plans. This includes mandatory screenings, masks, and social distancing, as well as notice both verbally and in writing to workers of the prevention plans.
The Hero act requires employers to adopt an Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard. New York State’s Department of Labor published model prevention plans that employers can simply adopt or develop a plan of their own with equal or greater protections.
The plans were not designed exclusively for COVID-19 and only would go into effect solely if New York’s Department of Health declared that a “highly contagious communicable disease” currently presented a serious risk to the public. As of now, COVID-19 has been declared to meet this standard, so businesses will have to take quick steps to ensure their workplace safety plans are suitable, notify their workers, and enact the plan’s requirements.
A great deal of the requirements in these plans should be familiar to most employers, as many were included in the New York Forward rules introduced last year. These include regular screening, social distancing, and wearing face coverings.
In order to comply with the HERO Act’s requirements, every employer that maintains a workplace in New York State must immediately begin taking steps to comply.
First, review the work plan that has been adopted. Ensure that the plan uses all of the current guidance and meets all of the current requirements issued by local, state, and federal governments. Once this is done, enact the plan’s protections and assign a supervisory-level employee to enforce the plan. Ensure that the plan will be enforced appropriately and monitor to ensure that exposure is controlled.
Go over the plan verbally, including any other safety plans in the workplace with all employees. Inform employees of the rights provided to them by the HERO Act, including their right to report any violations of the workplace’s safety plan free of any retaliation as well as their right to refuse working it they would face unreasonable exposure risk in violation of the Act’s requirements.
Next, provide employees with a written copy of the safety plan in English or the employee’s primary language if possible. Currently, the Department of Labor only provides templates in English and Spanish. Employers should take steps to comply quickly to avoid repercussions, including potential workplace shutdowns.