On May 5, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed A2681B/S1034—the Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act” or “Act”), which requires employers to enact an airborne infectious disease exposure prevention standard for all work sites and to create a workplace safety committee.

Under the Act, the NY Department of Labor, in consultation with the Department of Health, must provide industry tailored model standards for all work sites to establish minimum requirements for preventing exposure to airborne infectious diseases in the workplace. The standards will account for different levels of exposure and whether a state of emergency has been declared. The standards must include procedures and methods for employee health screenings; face coverings; required personal protective equipment; accessible hand hygiene stations with permitted break times to utilize the facilities as needed; regular cleaning and disinfecting of shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces; social distancing practices; isolation practices; and compliance with engineering controls.  There will also be a requirement to designate supervisory employees to enforce compliance with the prevention plan.  The plan will also need to be reviewed with all employees. The Act also contains prohibitions on retaliation.

All NY employers are required to establish an airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan by either adopting the model standard relevant to their industry or by establishing an alternative plan, which is equal to or exceeds the minimum requirements of the standard. The alternative plan is be developed with either a collective bargaining representative or with meaningful participation of employees and the plan is to be tailored and specific to hazards in the specific industry and work sites of the employer.

Unless the Department of Labor provides an extension, employers are required to provide copies of their prevention plan to all employees by June 4, 2021. The prevention plan must be posted in a visible and prominent location within the worksite and included in an employee handbook, if the employer has one.

While the prevention plan requires immediate attention by any employer, the workplace safety committee can be addressed after the prevention plan is in place. Only employers with at least 10 employees are required to establish a joint labor-management workplace safety committee by November 1, 2021. The committee is to meet during work hours once a quarter and will review and raise any health or safety concerns.

Employers with operations in New York state should be prepared to act quickly to review the model standards once they are released by the Department of Labor and should begin establishing workplace safety committee guidelines.