NY HERO Act: Everything to Know in 2021

Protecting the world from infectious disease

New York State’s Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act), signed into law in May 2021 to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, mandates workplace safety and health measures that protect employees against future airborne infectious disease outbreaks.   

Business owners celebrating the NY HERO Act

NY Hero Act Model Plan

Under this law, New York State’s Department of Labor, in conjunction with the state Department of Health, has developed multiple model plans for the prevention of airborne infectious diseases, including the Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard, a Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan, and numerous industry-specific model plans. Employers may adopt one of the applicable plan templates provided by the DOL or establish an alternative template that meets or exceeds the standard’s minimum requirements.   

As New York’s guidance and advisories have continued to evolve as we learn more about the airborne transmission of COVID-19, considerations made within these plans have also dynamically changed. Aspects of the program that have shifted due to changes in the official model plan include greater flexibility regarding masking and physical distancing

NY Hero Act Requirements

Regardless of whether there is a risk of a particular airborne infectious virus, every private employer in the state must adopt a health and safety plan and give a copy to employees within 30 days of adoption (or within 15 days of reopening from closure due to an infectious airborne disease outbreak).    

The legislation defines a worksite as any physical space where work is performed that an employer has control over. Following the passage of the HERO Act, employers had until August 5, 2021, to adopt a plan – with penalties for not doing so totaling $50 or more per day and up to a staggering $10000 for not following an adopted plan.   

In addition to the model plans prepared by the DOL and DOH, there are also 11 alternative industry-specific plans, including pre-made proposals for the agricultural, construction, food service, manufacturing, and private education industries. You can access the whole list of industries covered by these alternative plans here 

The Model Plan spans seven sections – five of which relate to controlling exposure controls, housekeeping measures, infection response protocols, training, information distribution, and plan evaluations during incidents designated as outbreaks.   

The exposure controls section designates several minimum controls to be implemented during an outbreak – general awareness protocols, including: 

  • Physical distancing   
  • Coughing and sneezing etiquette
  • Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate  
  • Hand washing 
  • Stay-at-home policies 
  • Health screening protocols

In situations where the minimum controls will not provide sufficient protection on their own, employers should determine if advanced controls are necessary, which include engineering controls such as:  

  • Mechanical ventilation 
  • Using higher-efficiency air filters in air handling systems
  • Installation of automatic disinfection systems (i.e., UV lights)
  • Disinfection methods and schedules
  • Isolation of areas where employees develop symptoms of the infectious disease while at work
  • Information and training following the activation of the plan allow employees access to information regarding:
    • Signs and symptoms of the disease
    • An explanation of the Exposure Prevention Plan
    • Exposure controls usage and limitations 

Overall, the NY HERO Act is a progressive move towards employee safety and health. As more states adopt the similar models, more companies will be required to develop measures to ensure the safety of their employees.

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