Over a year later, New York is beginning to reopen and return to some semblance of normal following the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on June 15, 2021, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo began lifting restrictions and rescinding previous orders when he lifted COVID-19 restrictions for commercial businesses in New York. Nearly a week later, on June 23, 2021, Gov. Cuomo announced the end of the state of disaster in New York, which had originally been declared on March 7, 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. On June 24, 2021, Gov. Cuomo signed Executive Order No. 210 and formally rescinded Executive Order No. 202, which had declared the state of disaster, and Executive Order No. 205, which had established quarantine restrictions on outside travelers and their subsequent amendments. Executive Order No. 210 went in effect on June 25, 2021. So, what does this mean for New York employers? What will change for them? We take a closer look at the implications.
New York Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions
On June 15, 2021, Gov. Cuomo lifted COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines for commercial industries in the state, including restaurants, bars and nightclubs, i.e. restrictions concerning social gathering limits, capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, health screening (taking the temperature of guests or employees) and the collection of contact information for tracing. However, New York’s COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions remain in place for a limited number of businesses and locations, including large-scale indoor event venues, pre-K to K-12 schools and public transit. Large-scale indoor event venues – venues that can hold more than 5,000 attendees – can operate at full capacity without social distancing requirements if all attendees provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. Unvaccinated attendees, or attendees whose vaccination status is unknown, must continue to wear masks in the venue.
The HERO Act
New York also recently enacted the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (the HERO Act) which requires all New York employers to create “airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plans” within the 30 days following the model standards the New Yok State Department of Labor (DOL) released.
On July 6, 2021, the New York State DOL released different model standards:
- The NY HERO Act Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard, which applies to all private employers with worksites in New York, except employees covered by a temporary or permanent standard adopted by OSHA.
- The NY Hero Act Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan, which applies to workplaces not encompassed by the industry-specific models.
- 11 industry-specific model safety plans:
All New York employers must either adopt the applicable model safety plan(s) relating to their business or develop and adopt an alternative safety plan that meets or exceeds the model safety plans’ requirements. Employers must then provide their safety plan to their employees within 30 days of adoption of the plan and post it in a visible and prominent location within each worksite. There is a minimum $50 penalty per day for each day an employer does not adopt a plan.
As of today, there is no requirement to actually implement the safety plans. They will only go into effect if the Commissioner of Health designates a specific “highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health.”
What Will Remain the Same?
The laws enacted during the pandemic, such as the COVID-19 Quarantine Sick Leave and the Vaccine Leave Law, remain in effect. Therefore, employers are still required to provide leave to employees if they are infected or taking care of someone infected with COVID-19, taking time off to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, or simply following local quarantine orders. State and local health officials will also keep their authority to issue quarantine orders or other heath directives if needed.
Employers should carefully review the different directives above. Employers should not delay implementing the directives and instead take a proactive approach by reviewing the different model safety plans and adopting one or crafting an alternative safety plan that meets or exceeds the models.