The New York Health and Essential Rights Act is the first of its kind to permanently establish workplace protections for the coronavirus, as well as future airborne outbreaks.
Photo credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user MTA

Legislation to provide workplace protections against the coronavirus, as well as future outbreaks, has been signed into law in New York. It’s the first state to make such safeguards permanent.  

“Every day working people have gone above and beyond to carry us through the COVID-19 pandemic, and for too many of them the cost has been dire,” said Mario Cilento, president of the state’s AFL-CIO. “That is why the New York HERO Act is so critically important. It will help ensure a safer working environment moving forward.”

Signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on May 5, the New York Health and Essential Rights Act amends existing labor law by codifying regulations to prevent the spread of airborne infectious diseases like COVID-19. The new standards include protocols on testing, staffing, personal protective equipment, social distancing and other issues. It also requires most larger employers to create health safety committees with their workforce included.

The law, which went into effect 30 days after being signed, will be available in English and Spanish, and includes anti-retaliation measures to protect employees who speak out about their working conditions.

“This is a historic step forward for working people and a preventative measure that will ensure we're better prepared for the next public health crisis,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I was proud to sign this bill into law and look forward to reviewing the new standards to protect workers and build a stronger New York."

Syracuse Local 2213 Business Manager Barb Carson, whose members work for Verizon Wireline’s call centers, says they’re still waiting on details about returning to the office, but are cautiously optimistic.

“There’s still a lot of apprehension about going back,” Carson said. “It’s going to be quite an adjustment after being at home for over a year.”

Carson says they’ve started to have conversations about returning to the offices, which are spread throughout upstate New York, and that Verizon has committed to following all Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“It’s going to be a new normal, and a big adjustment no matter what,” Carson said. “Knowing that our offices will be safe to return to and that there are standards in place will go a long way to easing everyone back in.”