Under NY HERO Act, workers could sue employers for safety violations

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Many employers across Monroe County are implementing new COVID safety standards under the NY HERO Act.

On Labor Day, Governor Kathy Hochul designated COVID-19 a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public. 

This means under the new NY HERO Act, employers are now required to put into place workplace safety plans seeking 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.

“Generally speaking, we believe and submit that businesses don’t want their employees to get sick, that businesses want to succeed, that 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,” Cohen said.

However, the law would require businesses who haven’t implemented safety measures, to put policies into place to help keep workers healthy. This could span from mask wearing to 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. So we were very happy to see that the Commissioner of Labor is now required to create a model airborne infectious disease standard,” Cohen said. 

The law also allows workers to also 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. And so 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,” said Mark Cohen, the Chief of Staff at the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

Cohen said businesses have the option to implement an industry-specific plan from New York state or make their own plans that meet or exceed those standards. 

Many businesses in New York had to already submit reopening plans to the state, with safety measures in place. Cohen said many employers are already following safety measures, so patrons may not see a ton of changes. 

“While right now these plans have been formally put into effect, 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 they want to ensure that they’re setting good standards for their employees and for the public,” Cohen said. 

The Rochester Greater Chamber of Commerce says they are here to assist any businesses with making their safety plans. They have a hotline businesses can call, or you can reach out here.

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