New York recently amended its Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act”) and published its “Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan.” While the Model Plan specifies that there is currently no airborne infectious disease outbreak, the HERO Act requires New York employers to take steps now to comply with the statute. “Airborne infectious disease” is defined as any infectious, viral, bacterial, or fungal disease that is transmissible through the air in the form of aerosol particles or droplets and is designated by the Commissioner of Health as a highly communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health. While COVID-19 would have been so designated a year ago, it is not so designated at this time. Likewise, unless designated by the Commissioner of Health, the seasonal flu will not qualify. See the New York Department of Labor Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard here: The Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard (ny.gov). Nevertheless, employers cannot wait until an outbreak is declared to comply with the statute.
What Employers Need to Know
The Act has broad definitions of “employer,” “employee,” and “work site.” “Employer” includes any person, entity, business, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, or association employing, hiring, or paying for the labor of any individual. “Employee” means any person providing labor or services for remuneration within the state and without regard to immigration status. The definition includes independent contractors. A “work site” means any physical space, including vehicles, where work is performed and the employer has the ability to exercise control. A work site includes employer-provided housing and transportation. Thankfully, employees’ own homes and vehicles are not covered.
The Act prohibits employers from retaliating or taking adverse action against any employee who exercises rights under the statute; reports violations of the statute; reports airborne infectious disease exposure; or refuses to work where the employee reasonably believes, in good faith, that such work exposes employees to an airborne infectious disease due to working conditions inconsistent with the law. The law, however, requires the employee to first notify the employer of the problem and then give the employer an opportunity to cure it.
New York City recently amended its Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (the “Act”) to match New York State’s recent changes to the Labor Law requiring all employers to provide sick leave to employees as discussed in our prior posts (Empire State Requires All Employers to Provide Sick Leave; Act Now! Changes to New York Sick Leave Are Here). New York City’s Act now matches the New York State requirements that employers must allow employees to accrue safe/sick time of between 40 to 56 hours per year (depending on employer size and net income). Although effective September 30, employees may be restricted from using any additional accrued paid time under the new legislation until January 1, 2021. New York City employers are also required to provide notice of the changes to their employees by October 30, 2020.
Mirroring the new Labor Law requirements, the New York City Act provides that:
Employers with 100 or more employees must allow employees to accrue at least 56 hours of paid safe/sick time each calendar year;
Employers with between five and 99 employees must allow employees to accrue at least 40 hours of paid safe/sick time each calendar year;
Employers with fewer than five employees but having a net income greater than one million dollars in the previous tax year must allow employees to accrue at least 40 hours of paid safe/sick time each calendar year; and
Employers with fewer than five employees and having a net income less than one million dollars in the previous tax year must allow employees to accrue at least 40 hours of unpaid safe/sick time each calendar year.
Citing the need to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19, California Governor Newsom acknowledged that California employers have had to close rapidly without providing their employees the advance notice required under California law. Generally, the California WARN Act requires employers to give a 60-day notice to affected employees and both state and local representatives prior to a plant closing or mass layoff.