Businesses opposed to mandates seeking to prevent spread of airborne disease

Posted at 4:09 PM, Apr 23, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — When it comes to mitigating the threat that COVID-19 poses in the workplace, Confer Plastics' safety guidelines have been used as a blueprint to help other business prepare to reopen last year.

"We had started up rather early compared to most other businesses, and we had laid out plans on how we should handle it. We actually shared those plans with other businesses and local government and state government," said Bob Confer, president of Confer Plastics.

But Confer thought these measures would be temporary.

A new law that passed in the Senate and Assembly mandates that businesses take steps to protect employees from airborne infectious diseases like COVID-19, pneumonia and the flu.

It would make workplace rules like PPE, social distancing and hand hygiene permanent.

"This is something that we've been doing but it's not something that we expect to do in the future beyond the realm of COVID," said Confer.

Another thing Confer said he's concerned about is that the bill allows employees to sue employers - without fear of retaliation - for noncompliance with these COVID-19 safety protocols.

"It does allow employees to have what's called a Private Right of Action against an employer who doesn't adopt a plan, a safety plan," said James Grasso, Partner with Phillips Lytle LLP.

Grasso said the bill provides for liquidated damages up to $20,000.

Confer said after dozens of testing at the plant over the past 13 months, none of the exposures they've found happened inside the workplace.

"How many $20,000 lawsuits are going to pop up across New York State as employees forgo the Department of Health, OSHA, the Department of Labor, and go directly to the courts?" said Confer.

"There's no sunset date on this statute. So this is a permanent law," said Grasso.

The law is now awaiting the governor's signature. If singed, the law would take effect 30 days later.