Governor Signs COVID-19 Legislation 

Situation Report | June 22, 2020

The Governor has signed COVID-19-related bills. The measures include expansion of whistleblower protections, a study on the health impacts of COVID-19 on minority communities, suspending the forfeiture of unemployment benefits during the state of emergency, and repealing a law that made it illegal to wear a face covering in a public place. A brief summary of each bill is provided below.

Whistleblower Legislation (S.8397-A/A.10326-A).

This measure expands the existing whistleblower protections for health care employees by prohibiting employer retaliation if an employee reports improper quality of patient care or improper quality of workplace safety to a news media outlet or social media forum.

The bill adds news media outlets and social media forums to the list of entities to which an employee may report violations of improper quality of patient care or workplace safety. It also creates a new category of “improper quality of workplace safety,” which is defined to include any violation of law, rule, or regulation where such violation relates to matters which may present an unsafe workplace environment, risk of employee safety, or a significant threat to the health of a specific employee. This law takes effect immediately.

Study on Health Impacts of COVID-19 on Minorities (S.8245-A/A.10517)

This bill requires the state Department of Health (DOH) to conduct a study on the differential health impacts of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities in New York State. The study would identify statewide and regional rates of infection, hospitalization, recovery and mortality. It would also identify any racial or ethnic disparities within such rates along with medical, environmental, and system-related factors that may have contributed to such rates.

DOH would be required to review the data to identify geographical areas where disparities exist, along with ways to reduce such disparities related to COVID-19 impact rates. A report on the Department’s findings and recommendations must be submitted within one year.

Suspending the Forfeiture of Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19 (S.8275-A /A.10348-A)

This bill amends the Labor Law to suspend the forfeiture of unemployment insurance benefits without penalties, effective for benefit claims on and after May 11, 2020 for the duration of the declared state disaster emergency. This law will take effect immediately and will be deemed repealed upon the expiration of the state disaster emergency.

Repealing Face Coverings Ban (A.10446-A/S.8415)

This bill repeals a section of the Penal Law which prohibited being masked or disguised by unusual or unnatural attire for facial alteration in a public place, unless it occurs in connection with a masquerade party or city-sanctioned event. As a result, the use of a mask in public would no longer be considered a violation of the Penal Law. This law takes effect immediately.