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NEW LAW PROTECTION FOR PUBLIC EMPLOYEES IN PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES

In recognition of the essential role of public employees during this pandemic, New York State has adopted new legislation requiring public employers to plan for similar emergencies in the future. The New York State Labor Law has been amended by adding a new section (27-c) entitled “Duty Of Public Employers To Develop Operation Plans In The Event Of Certain Declared Public Health Emergencies.” The act applies to the State of New York, a county, city, town, village, or any other political subdivision or civil division of the State, a public authority, commission or public benefit corporation, or any other public corporation, agency, instrumentality or unit of government which exercises governmental power under the laws of this State.

A separate section of the new law amends the Education Law to also extend this obligation to school districts.

Your plan is required to be published by April 1, 2021.

The law expressly requires each public employer in the State of New York to prepare a plan for the continuation of operations in the event that the Governor declares a public health emergency involving a communicable disease. The operations plan required by the law must include the following:

  1. A list and description of positions and titles considered essential in the event of a State-ordered reduction of in-person workforce, with a justification for each position and title.
  2. A specific description of protocols the employer will follow in order to enable all non-essential employees and contractors to telecommute including, but not limited to, facilitating or requesting the procurement, distribution, downloading and installation of any needed devices or technology, including software, laptops or cell phones, and the transferring of office phone lines to work or personal cell phones as practicable or applicable to the workplace.
  3. A description of how the employer will stagger work shifts of essential employees and contractors in order to reduce overcrowding at worksites.
  4. A description of the protocol the employer will implement in order to procure the appropriate personal protective equipment for essential employees and contractors, based upon the various tasks and needs of such employees and contractors in a quantity sufficient to provide at least two pieces of each type of personal protective equipment to each essential employee and contractor during any given work shift over at least six months. Such description shall also include a plan for storage of such equipment to prevent degradation and permit immediate access in the event of an emergency declaration.
  5. A description of the protocol in order to prevent the spread or contraction of such disease in the workplace. Such protocol shall also detail actions to be taken to immediately and thoroughly disinfect the work area of any person suspected to be infected with the communicable disease as well as any common area surface and shared equipment such person may have touched, and the employer policy on available leave in the event of the need of an employee to receive testing, treatment, isolation, or quarantine. Such protocol shall not involve any action that would violate any existing federal, state, or local law, including regarding sick leave or health information privacy.
  6. A protocol for documenting precise hours and work locations, including off-site visits, for essential employees to aid in tracking of the disease.
  7. A protocol for how the public employer will work to identify sites for emergency housing for essential employees in order to further contain the spread.

Once drafted, the plan must go to the unions representing employees to review the plan and make recommendations. The employer must consider and respond to such recommendations in writing within a reasonable timeframe. A copy of the final version of such plan shall then be published in a clear and conspicuous location, and in the employee handbook, to the extent that the employer provides such handbook to its employees, and in a location accessible on either the employer’s website or on the internet accessible by employees.

The legislation also requires the Department of Labor to establish a hotline for reporting complaints and violations. Please contact us for further information concerning these new requirements.

We’re here to help.  If you are a public employer or school district and need our assistance in prepare your Pandemic Operations Plan, please contact us.

This is not intended to be legal advise.  Contact an attorney for your specific situation.

Howard Protter is a partner on the Municipal Law Team. He can be reached by phone at 845-778-2121 toll free or 845-778-2121 and by email.

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