HERO Act Worker Organizing: A New Era for Labor in NY
Under Section 1 of the NY HERO Act, which went into effect on May 5, 2021, New York employers with ten or more employees were required to establish an Exposure Prevention Plan that met the minimum standards set forth in the industry-specific guidelines issued by the Department of Health for any public health issue with this designation. Although, for the time being, covered employers are not required to maintain an Exposure Prevention Plan, Section 2 of the HERO Act — which established new protections and privileges for employees who form joint Labor-Management Health and Safety Committees — is expected to have far longer-lasting impacts on worker organizing in our state. These invaluable protections are paving the way for a new era in labor: HERO Act Worker Organizing.
Notably, the Act established expansive anti-retaliation protections for employees who refused to come into a workplace that was not in compliance with the Department of Health’s guidelines. The guidelines laid out a number of precautions, including limitations on the number of employees allowed to congregate in a single space, mask requirements, and more. Employers could not legally terminate an employee for refusing to work under extra-regulatory conditions.
Section two, which took effect on November 1, 2021, requires employers who employ at least ten employees to allow employees to form joint labor-management workplace safety committees. Unlike Section 1, which is restricted to public health issues designated Highly Communicable Airborne Infectious Disease, Section two applies to all safety and health worker committees. There are no topical restrictions on the protections the Act confers onto workers acting in concert to address safety and health concerns.
HERO Act Worker Organizing: A New Era for Labor
The law provides the following protections to committee members:
- Employers must allow committee members to attend training at the time of their choosing and must pay employees for training and meeting time
- Employees have the right to participate in requesting committees and serving as committee members without retaliation
- Employees who are retaliated against have the right to sue employers in court
- Employers may pay fines of up to $20,000 and be required to pay lost wages, damages, and legal fees
These new protections are an exciting development for workers and organizers alike. The NY HERO Act’s impact on labor organizing will long outlive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interested in forming a Health and Safety Committee at your workplace? We can help! Contact us to set up a consultation and training on how you can establish a committee to advocate for a safer workplace for you and your coworkers today!