THE HERO ACT: A LANDMARK FOR WORKER SAFETY AND HEALTH
The New York Health and Essential Rights (HERO) Act was signed into law on May 5, 2021 and expanded to include COVID-19 on September 6, 2021. The law is intended to protect workers from exposure and illness caused by airborne infectious disease.
Under the HERO Act, the New York State Department of Labor has developed a standard, a model prevention plan to be used by employers, and specific model plans for some industries including construction, delivery services, domestic workers, first responders, food service, manufacturing, education and retail. Employers may either use the Department of Labor’s template or create their own plan, which must meet or exceed the standard’s minimum requirements.
When a disease has been designated as being covered by the Act, the minimum requirements include physical distancing, masks, a stay-at-home policy for symptomatic workers and health screenings. Employers are required to consider engineering controls including local ventilation, general ventilation, and natural ventilation (opening doors and windows), as well as modifications to physical workspaces and the use of administrative controls like staggered schedules, one-way traffic patterns, and the use of person protective equipment (PPE).
The designation of COVID-19 as being covered by the Act means that all New York employers are required to create and follow safety plans that meet or exceed the minimum standards. Importantly, the Act prohibits employers from retaliating in any way against employees who report conduct that they “reasonably believe in good faith violates the plan.”