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New York Essential Employers Must Provide Face Masks to Workers

May 4th, 2020 Emma O'Connor

new yorkIf you’re an essential worker in New York, your employer has been obligated to provide you with a face mask since April 15, 2020. On April 12, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued executive order No. 202.16 which states that “for all essential businesses or entities, any employees who are present in the workplace shall be provided and shall wear face coverings when in direct contact with customers or members of the public. Businesses must provide, at their expense, such face coverings for their employees.”  Local government and police can enforce the executive order under sections 12 or 12-b of the Public Health Law which gives the government power to punish violators of public health orders with fines, misdemeanor offenses, or even imprisonment.  New York joins several other states that have adopted similar measures to mitigate the spread of coronavirus: Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Maryland.

Guidance for New York Employers 

New York State has offered some guidance for employers that clarify the executive order. For example, employers must obtain or fashion face masks for their employees at no cost to the workers.  Workers can use their own face coverings, especially if they are more protective, but companies cannot force them to do so. Not being able to find face coverings does not relieve an essential service employer from their duty to provide face masks under this law.  New York’s guidance states that employers should contact their local office of emergency management to see if they have extra masks if they have difficulty obtaining or fashioning them.  New York’s guidance also describes what can be considered a face-covering under this law: cloth masks like bandanas, homemade sewn, and quick-cut coverings; face shields, surgical masks, and N-95 respirators.  More information on how to make homemade bandana, sewn, and quick-cut face masks can be found on the CDC’s cloth face-covering tutorial page.  

Additionally, employers must try to make reasonable accommodations for employees who are more susceptible to COVID-19 but are not able to wear a face mask.  Matilda’s Law describes New york’s most vulnerable populations: those who are over 70, have compromised immune systems, or have underlying illnesses.  Companies should try to provide these vulnerable workers who can’t wear a face-covering with different PPE, different work locations, or alternate tasks that require fewer interactions with the public and their colleagues if possible to ensure their safety. 

Legal Consequences 

It is important for employers to follow these legal requirements as they can be held liable for any consequences that their negligence could have on their employees’ health.  As stated, violating this executive order could also result in a fine or even criminal penalties under sections 12 or 12b of the Public Health Law. Thus, essential workers in New York have the right to hold their employers legally accountable for providing masks. 

Seek Legal Assistance 

If you are an essential worker in New York and your employer has not given you a face covering, seek legal assistance today. The Working Solutions Law Firm, located in New York City, can assist you. Contact us today at (646) 430-7930 to schedule a free case evaluation and receive experienced legal counsel.