As we previously discussed in May and July, the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act), signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, required employers to take numerous health and safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Sept. 6, 2021, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the commissioner of the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH Commissioner), under the NY HERO Act, designated COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health. Therefore, companies must now implement their airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plans. The NYSDOH Commissioner’s designation will remain in effect until Sept. 30, 2021, at which time he will review the level of transmission of COVID-19 in New York State and determine whether to continue the designation.
Violations of the NY HERO Act carry stiff civil penalties of up to $10,000 for first-time violators and $20,000 for repeat violators. Additionally, the law permits employees to bring civil lawsuits when they believe employers have violated the airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan in a manner that creates a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm to the employee could result. Employees can seek injunctive relief and are able to recover the costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees associated with asserting their rights under the NY HERO Act in court.