The Democratic-led Assembly on Monday approved a bill that would require businesses to have safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Businesses will have to follow specific standards when it comes to providing personal protective equipment, social distancing and guaranteeing break times to employees so they can wash their hands.
Known as the NY HERO Act by its supporters, the bill also requires businesses set up “employer-employee workplace health and safety committees,” which will evaluate the effectiveness and application of workplace health and safety protocols.
“As a nurse, I know how hard this last year has been for those working on the frontlines of the pandemic – worried about their health, the health of those around them and whether their work environment was a safe one,” Assemblywoman Karines Reyes said. “We need to ensure that corporations, who have made billions during this pandemic provide adequate protections to their employees and frontline workers.”
The bill received major pushback from the business community on Monday, with a large number of organizations writing a memorandum of opposition to the act.
Many say they are concerned with the provision since it also allows employees to sue employers for noncompliance of these COVID-19 safety protocols, potentially opening the door to frivolous lawsuits. They also point to how contact tracing data has found these businesses are not a significant source of transmission.
These groups include the National Federation of Independent Business, New York State Restaurant Association and the Business Council.
“This new mandate on businesses is an overreach that will additionally distress job creators and businesses’ bottom lines at a time when revenue is down and the economic future is rife with uncertainty, our state should be focusing on a full and fast economic recovery,” the memorandum says.
At the same time, labor and immigration groups praised the passage of the NY HERO Act.
“It is a critical measure toward protecting all Empire State workers, regardless of immigration status, by establishing health and safety standards to safeguard workers from all airborne diseases, including COVID-19. Our state’s workers, including two million undocumented essential workers, continue to put their lives on the line to keep our economy and communities running, yet have not been provided enforceable safety standards,” FWD.us New York Immigration State Director Eddie Taveras said. “More than 51,000 New Yorkers have lost their lives to this pandemic. We cannot mourn or recover until we have done everything we can to save lives.”
“As the pandemic continues, workplace safety must be a priority,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said. “The NY HERO Act will provide the enforceable standards that workers and communities need to stay safe. Senator Gianaris, Assembly Member Reyes and many allies in Albany have championed this bill and given a voice to workers when they needed it most. We look forward to seeing the bill signed into law.”
A similar bill already passed the Senate, but since the Assembly made a few tweaks to the language of the legislation, the Senate will have to approve it one more time before it heads to the governor’s desk.