On Labor Day, the New York State Health Department declared COVID-19 a “highly contagious disease that presents a serious risk to public health.”

Advocates have been waiting for months for this certification so it can jumpstart the NY HERO Act.

The bill was signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year and businesses were required to have a workplace safety plan drafted and presented to employees.

It wasn’t until Tuesday that those drafted plans had the green light to go into effect after Gov. Kathy Hochul directed the Health Department to declare COVID-19 a health risk.  

Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director for ALIGN, said protecting the health of employees will boost the state’s economic recovery.  

“We have been dependent on these workers and giving them health and safety protections. The basic health and safety protections will allow for our economy to thrive across the country,” Silva-Farrell explained.

Now that this certification has been made, workplaces will soon have to follow certain health and safety protocols.

Businesses will be required to supply things like personal protective equipment, room for social distancing, time to wash hands and more.

However, Greg Biryla with the National Federation of Independent Business, said the NY Hero Act also opens the door to frivolous lawsuits and costly expenses.

“There are a whole new host of mandates that they have to be compliant with or face significant penalties,” Biryla said. “My real concern is a lack of understanding, communication, and knowledge that this has now required small business owners who are really just paying attention and trying to keep their businesses afloat.”

Employers will also have to form workplace health and safety committees where workers can report violations and be protected from retaliation.

Silva-Farrell said having these extra protections in place could encourage more people to return to work.

“Employees are, and people in general, are afraid of going to the workplace,” Silva-Farrell said. “So this will allow for workers to feel safe, to feel that they have an ability to account for an employer to take care of them and ensure that their health and safety is the number one priority.”

Biryla disagrees, saying a law like this will only impact a business’ ability to build back after the pandemic.

“There is no relief money for small businesses to sort of absorb these new costs associated with the Act,” Biryla said. “Or if there's any sort of capacity restrictions and a loss in business, there's no relief money for that either.”

A mandate that would have required employees at state agencies to be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19 by Sept. 7 has now been postponed to Oct. 12.