Health Commissioner Designates COVID-19 as HERO Act Illness

On May 5, 2021, the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act) was signed into law. The purpose of the NY HERO Act is to protect employees against exposure and disease during an airborne infectious disease outbreak.

The New York State Department of Labor released a series of minimum standards and advanced COVID-19 safety standard recommendations for employers to follow. Businesses can follow the industry-specific safety plan templates or devise their own plans that meet or exceed the minimum standards. Among the minimum requirements in a safety plan are:

  • A “stay at home” policy that acknowledges if a worker develops infectious-disease symptoms, the employee should not be in the workplace.
  • Employees will wear face coverings throughout the workday “to the greatest extent possible.” Face coverings and physical distancing should be used together “whenever possible.”
  • Employees will be screened for symptoms of the infectious disease at the beginning of their shift.
  • Special accommodations must be provided to some employees who due to age, underlying health condition, or other factors may be at increased risk of severe illness if infected.

Here’s the timeline for HERO Act implementation:

  • May 5, 2021 – NY HERO Act signed into law
  • July 6, 2021 – DOL publishes model standards
  • August 5, 2021 – Deadline for employer adoption of airborne infections disease exposure plan
  • September 4, 2021 – Deadline for employer airborne infections disease exposure plan distribution to employees

At the direction of Governor Hochul, New York State Commissioner of Health, Howard Zucker, designated COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health at the beginning of September. Under the new HERO Act law, this designation requires employers to implement their HERO Act plans (adopted by August 5, 2021) in order to reduce the risk of employee exposure to this disease.

The New York State Department of Labor is the primary enforcement agency of the HERO Act, but the State Liquor Authority could include examination of your HERO Act plan as part of a standard SLA inspection of your premises. More information about the HERO Act can be found on the NYS Department of Labor’s website: