New York to Require Pandemic Plans for All Municipalities, Other Public Employers

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A new law signed on Labor Day -- the day before many schools returned students for the first time since March -- imposes new requirements on municipalities across the state in case of a health emergency declared by the Governor.

Chapter 168 (Approval Memo 7) applies to all public employers in the state including counties, cities, towns, villages, and other political subdivisions as well as school districts. The new law mandates these public employers prepare a plan for the continuation of operations in the event the governor declares a public health emergency involving a communicable disease.

The plans must be multifaceted and made public upon adoption including publication on websites and in employee handbooks, to the extent employers have such handbooks. Plans must include:

  • A list and description of positions and titles considered essential;
  • A specific description of protocols the school district has to follow to enable all nonessential and contractors to telecommute;
  • A description of how the employer will stagger work shifts of essential employees and contractors;
  • A description of the protocol the employer will implement to produce appropriate PPE for essential employees and contractors. This part must also include a plan for storing that equipment to prevent degradation and permit immediate access in the event of emergency;
  • A description of the protocol in the event an employee is exposed to a known case of the communicable disease subject to the public health emergency, as well as a description of the protocol when someone exhibits symptoms of the disease or tests positive for the disease. The protocol must detail the actions required to immediately and thoroughly disinfect the work area of that employee;
  • Protocol for documenting precise hours and work locations including off-site visits for essential employees and contractors. This protocol is designed to aid in tracking the disease and identifying populations exposed;
  • Protocol for how public employers will work with localities to identify sites for emergency housing for essential workers;
  • Each public employer must provide the plan to employees; employees must be granted the opportunity to review the plan and make recommendations. Employers must respond to recommendations within a reasonable timeframe.

The Department of Labor will be establishing a dedicated webpage and hotline where public employees can file complaints related to potential violations of state law, regulation, rule or guidance related to occupational health and safety. In the case of school districts, these plans are to be developed in the same manner as school safety plans as required under Education Law section 2801-a.

On first glance, this law seems to impose a somewhat daunting requirement. However, considering what most localities developed over the last few months in response to COVID-19 and what school districts were required to plan for in preparation for reopening this fall, it is possible much of this work is already developed and/or underway. Regardless, every municipality must evaluate whether it has plans and protocols in place which meet the multifaceted requirements of this new law.

The bill indicates an effective date for plan development of within 30 days from signing. However, we understand that is intended to be delayed until April 1.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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