This bill proposes to designate a privileged class of employees in New York State during a declared statewide emergency. The bill is unnecessary as the protections it proposes are already in place in both state and federal law. It creates no new protections for employees but instead adds a significant administrative burden to employers in a time when they would be providing essential services to the public – burdens that could hamper the delivery of essential goods and services.
For each item in this legislation’s proposed the bill of rights, a remedy already exists in federal and/or state law. These include:
Would ensure workers have adequate personal protective equipment – Federal Occupational Safety and Health law (OSHA) already requires employers provide personal protective equipment to employees. Failure to do so can result in significant fines and criminal penalties. An employer’s failure to provide necessary personal protective equipment could result in fines up to $13,494 per violation with repeated, willful violation penalties raising to $134,937 per violation.
Would mandate that employers inform workers when an employee has contracted a disease related to the state of emergency and of a worker's potential exposure to disease – Section 5 (a) (1) of the OSHA Act requires all employers “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Employers are already required to inform employees of the presence of an occupational hazard and to provide information on how employees can protect themselves from this hazard.
Would prevent employers from retaliating or discriminating against an essential worker for reporting any unsafe work environment – OSHA administers more than twenty whistleblower protection laws, including Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about unsafe or unhealthful conditions or exercise other rights under the Act. In addition, Governor Cuomo signed into law additional protections for healthcare workers in 2020. We see no justification for the creation of additional versions of legal protections already in statute.
Finally, this bill would authorize the state Department of Labor to mandate additional payments of wages and childcare benefits to “essential workers” as defined therein. These payments can be up to $25,000 per calendar year. This represents unprecedented regulatory authority for the Department which could order increased wage and benefit payments by employers regardless of whether the business suffered financial losses during the pandemic, and regardless of whether the employer already provided voluntary pay increases on their own. We strongly oppose new authority for the state to impose employer-specific wage orders.
For these reasons, The Business Council, on behalf of its 2,400 members, opposes this bill.