Update: As of February 15, 2022, the Commissioner of Health has continued to designate COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health in New York State. This designation was extended to March 17, 2022.

by Jamie Herzlich, Newsday

Almost two years since the COVID shutdown, employers now have guidance on a key component of New York’s HERO Act, which among other things required employers to allow for the establishment of workplace safety committees.

The state Department of Labor recently released a proposed rule providing details on the composition and operation of these committees, which would allow workers at firms with 10 or more employees to raise workplace health and safety issues and review health and safety policies.

While the workplace safety committee provision technically took effect Nov. 1, legal and safety experts say employers were fuzzy on their obligations until the DOL released the proposed rule on Dec. 22.

“Until the proposed rule came out, employers didn’t really know what they needed to do to be in compliance,” says Christine Malafi, a senior partner and chair of the corporate department at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick LLP in Ronkonkoma.

The employers had the potential setup of committees on their radar, but without further detailed guidance were more immediately focused on creating airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plans, another component of the HERO Act, she said.

Employers must keep in effect those prevention plans until Feb. 15 — or later if New York’s Health Commissioner Mary Bassett extends the designation of COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm beyond that date, Malafi says. Experts expect an extension.

Not just about COVID

But consider that the HERO Act’s safety committee provision isn’t just about coronavirus prevention — it also deals with overall workplace safety.

Also, keep in mind, employers are under no obligation to create these committees on their own, but must allow for them to be formed upon a written request by employees, Malafi says.

Specifically, the guidance dictates, among other things, that, “committees may be established for each worksite following a written request for recognition by at least two non-supervisory employees who work at the worksite,” says Malafi. “Multiple requests for committee recognition shall be combined and treated as a single request to form a committee,” the rule says.

Asking for it

The committee must be comprised of at least two non-supervisory employees and at least one employer representative. Upon the receipt of a request for recognition, employers shall respond to such request with “reasonable promptness.”

Among their obligations, after the establishment of a workplace safety committee, employers must respond, in writing, within a reasonable time period, to each safety and health concern, hazard, complaint and other violations raised by the workplace safety committee or one of its members, Malafi says.

Read the full article on Newsday‘s website.

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