ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – Governor Andrew Cuomo late Wednesday signed into law the New York HERO Act, which sets enforceable health and safety standards to protect workers from COVID-19 and future airborne infectious diseases in the workplace. Supporters celebrated on Thursday.
Under the measure, the state health and labor departments will design minimum standards for workplace health and safety during outbreaks of airborne viruses and all infectious disease outbreaks. Business will have to provide personal protective equipment for all employees, and set up safe social distancing and disinfecting protocols, and ensure adequate airflow.
Stuart Appelbaum, who heads the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, is among many union leaders who backed the bill. He says nearly all of his members were declared essential workers during the pandemic, and risked their health and their lives while others were able to remain at home.
He says the law “crystallizes” what was learned during the pandemic.
“We have taken the best practices for protecting workers and we have set those practices in stone,” Appelbaum said.
Appelbaum says it will “save lives” and ensure that the state is better prepared for the next pandemic.
Business groups opposed it, saying it places new regulatory burdens on employers who have struggled financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also worry that provisions that allow the public to sue businesses who are not in compliance could lead to costly frivolous lawsuits.
Employers who fail to comply with the new regulations, face fines of up to $50 a day, up to $10,000.
In a statement, the state’s Business Council says the legislation goes “well beyond what is necessary to assure that workplaces are safe for employees and customers during public health crises”.
Senate sponsor and Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris disputes the business groups’ claims that the law is costly and unnecessary.
“It is not a cost saving mechanism to put your employees and customers at risk of death,” Gianaris said.
Gianaris says the recently approved state budget includes $1 billion dollars in relief for small businesses.
Employers with fewer than 10 workers will not have to follow the new rules.
Cuomo, who did not advocate for the measure, says lawmakers agreed to make some changes to the law that the legislature will approve later in the session.
Sponsors say they will change the effective date from 30 days to 90 days, and give businesses owners a 30 day window to correct any violations before facing sanctions.