BUFFALO, N.Y. — Back in May, former Governor Cuomo signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act or NY HERO Act into law.
The law mandates new workplace health and safety protections in response to the pandemic in an effort to protect employees.
Up until Monday, businesses were asked to have a workplace safety plan ready and presented to employees, but today Governor Kathy Hochul signed a directive to require those plans go into effect.
"They developed new standards but they only take effect when the Department of Health triggers it, I've talked to the Commissioner of Health, I said let's get it done," said Hochul.
On Monday, 2 On Your Side talked with a local defense attorney to discuss the legal implications of the announcement from Governor Hochul for local businesses.
According to the Governor's Office, the four pieces of legislation that signed on Labor Day will not only boost workplace safety but will also put more money in New Yorkers' pockets.
During her address Monday morning, she announced she will begin enforcement of the NY HERO Act, which immediately puts businesses' pandemic safety plans in place.
2 On Your Side's Scott Levin asked Defense Attorney Barry Covert what this will look like for businesses that have been struggling with, masks rules, vaccination plans, and what it means for businesses in New York.
"They really codified what local businesses have been struggling with, which is now that we have the CDC for months, talking about vaccination, the importance of vaccinations, wearing masks if you're not vaccinated, but it was hard to really enforce it for local businesses. Now, we've got the state codifying the requirement that local businesses have plans for vaccinations for workers who are not vaccinated and how to handle those that are not vaccinated and require that they wear masks. But it requires that when there's some type of an outburst of COVID, that there be a plan in place. And it should be very helpful for businesses who now are going to have the support of the state and making certain that there are requirements that are put in place by those employers to make certain that the employees are either handling the vaccinations, or don't have vaccinations, but have plans in place," said Covert.
2 On Your Side asked but it puts more rules and more mandates on a lot of businesses for some of the smaller ones that may not have the time or the employees to be able to put together this plan, what does it say to them? Could they be in trouble with the government?
"It could be a problem for the smaller businesses that don't have plans in place. If there are outbreaks, and they don't have the plans to make certain that [the outbreak] doesn't spread wider, it could cause some liability for that employer. I think that what's going to be important, though, is that they make sure that they follow whatever blueprint is set up by other employers and fellow business members who know how to set this up and follow that [guidance] because yes, it could increase their liability for not following the state's requirements if, in fact, they didn't put a plan in place," said Covert.
2 On Your Side asked, so does this increase the liability for an employee to possibly sue an employer if there is a COVID outbreak where they work?
"It could certainly increase the liability of employees that have employers who are being sued by employees. Now, generally, that comes under the workers' compensation laws. And so you're in that arena, but it could certainly increase the liability of employers, for their employees, or even customers who are now exposed, because the employers knew at some date, that there was COVID, that that was being airborne passed around in their business, and now customers are suffering the consequences of that. So this could lead to some increased liability for employers," said Covert.
2 On Your Side wanted to know if this is something that businesses could challenge if they wanted to get together and do it as a group?
"Yeah, you would certainly think that the businesses are going to challenge this, as they have with every COVID regulation to determine whether it's a reasonable restriction, whether it's reasonable to expect that they put plans in place of this nature to make certain that they have they know what to do if there is an outbreak. But you can certainly see the possibility of employers getting together and hiring some law firms to challenge the requirement to see whether it's constitutionally vested and whether the state's allowed to require employers to do this," said Covert.