As the world continues to work through the COVID-19 pandemic, new laws, guidelines, and directives continue to adapt and change to keep the community safe. The NY HERO Act is one of these laws in New York State with implications for your small business.
Enacted in 2021 and recently extended through October 31, the law puts in place many requirements for business owners to increase safety related to airborne diseases. Knowing what measures you’ll need to follow, how these measures work, and how to properly document your prevention plans is critical for any business.
What is the NY Hero Act?
The NY Hero Act broadly applies to airborne diseases. With a broad designation, its application can go beyond the current COVID-19 outbreak and create a tool that can be quickly implemented whenever a new outbreak occurs. The new law is designed to limit the spread of airborne diseases in the following ways:
- Provide a way for businesses to handle infected staff
- Put measures in place to prevent infection
- Establish responsibilities for prevention and handling infections
- Make staff and management aware of airborne disease infection routes, prevention, and etiquette
Who’s covered under the NY Hero Act?
In short, most businesses must follow this law. Those that are exempt include:
- Businesses with just one employee – the founder.
- Any staff of a business that aren’t in a controlled space (such as people working from home). If a business has any staff in a controlled space (like a retail space, offices, warehouses, etc.) then it is covered.
- Businesses that are already covered by an OSHA specification on airborne diseases.
These requirements are the same for businesses that use bona fide employees and/or independent contractors.
What do I need to include in my exposure prevention plan?
The exposure prevention plan is the most important part of the new law. Every business that isn’t already covered by an OSHA specification related to airborne diseases must create and use an exposure prevention plan. That means most small businesses, including yours.
In your exposure prevention plan, you’ll provide details on how your business will implement the four items above. If you don’t have one, you need to create one right away and give it to your employees within 30 days of creating it.
The good news is that the NYS Department of Labor has created many exposure plan templates for various industries that you can use to create your plan.
You’ll still need to make sure that you and your staff completely understand the template’s prevention plan procedures. You’ll also need to designate all the staff that have various responsibilities within it, and put its various procedures into action.
Now, let’s take a look at each component that needs to be included in your exposure prevention plan.
Businesses in every industry will need to have a “responsibilities” section in their plan. The responsibilities section covers exactly what business locations or “spaces” are covered by the plan.
This section also explains what every person’s responsibility is in the event that the plan is enacted. These responsibilities will be critical, as they establish accountability within your business. If someone isn’t performing their duties according to the plan it could be grounds for a violation with the state.
Responsibilities should be regularly reviewed and adapted as staff moves into and out of your business.
Every exposure prevention plan will need an exposure controls section. The way in which exposure is prevented will differ from industry to industry because of natural differences in operations.
Exposure controls typically include the following:
- making employees aware of the ways that airborne diseases spread
- “stay and home” measures for suspected or active cases
- health screening protocols
- guidance on face coverings and physical distancing
- hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
- surface sanitation measures, and
- measures for employees who are at a higher risk of infection.
All of the ways in which your business implements these measures should meet the requirements set forth in the template or CDC guidance for businesses.
Beyond these basic measures, your business should implement advanced measures related to your industry (for example, how you’ll protect customers that visit your business) as well as engineered controls (such as ventilation).
Measures during an active outbreak
The next part of the plan that affects all businesses will be the measures to deal with an active outbreak. This includes multiple sections that outline:
- how you’ll isolate an infected employee and the area that they’ve occupied
- how to inform individuals who may have come into contact with that employee, and
- training measures to educate staff about how to deal with the situation.
All exposure prevention plans must include a mechanism for evaluating the plan. As the business owner, you can choose whoever you’d like to be involved in this process.
In the future, New York State plans to roll out Section 2 of the HERO Act. This will enable employees to create their own groups, independent of management, to review, evaluate, and change exposure prevention plans.
The new law requires that your employees be protected. This means that employees cannot face retaliation for reporting a reasonable violation of the HERO Act or your business’s exposure prevention plan. The law also protects employees who, in good faith, refuse to work in a business space if they believe that it poses an unreasonable risk of exposure.
Airborne disease designation
If the state declares an airborne disease outbreak, as it did on September 6, 2021 for COVID-19, then your business must implement your exposure prevention plan. This means having a meeting to verbally explain the plan and immediately put into place all the measures listed above.
Use the templates, set up trainings, and know your plan
There is a lot to know and understand about the HERO Act, and the worst time to start learning about it is when your business has an outbreak. Use one of the templates from the Department of Labor website to create your own plan now, and regularly train staff on the requirements during the current airborne disease designation and the requirements if there is an outbreak in the workplace.
If you need more resources related to COVID-19 and your business, including funding and grant opportunities, visit our COVID-19 resource center.