What Can Employees Do When Their Employer Is Violating Required COVID-19 Safety Regulations?

Posted by


By: Charlie Moran

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the typical work day for millions of New York State residents. Not everyone, however, is working from home. Millions of people working in industries such as retail, dining, healthcare, and numerous others cannot do their job from the comfort of their home. Additionally, many workers in these industries have been working in particularly dangerous environments due to the lack of safety measures taken by their employers. For example, in the days leading up to an outbreak of 783 COVID-19 cases at a Smithfield Foods pork plant, the company’s CEO said, “social distancing is a nicety that only makes sense for people with laptops.”

The pandemic has brought on a number of new mandatory state regulations in New York regarding safety precautions aimed at slowing or eliminating the spread of COVID-19, including statewide regulations that apply to all New York employers as well as industry-specific regulations that differ from employers in one industry to the next. Not all businesses, however, have been diligently following the required protocols. Employees should be aware of their options if they suspect their employer is not following New York State’s required precautions. Before that, however, they should understand what kinds of actions or inactions in their workplace might be violations of New York’s required COVID-19 safety regulations.

  1. Is my employer violating New York’s COVID-19 safety regulations?

Figuring out whether or not your employer is violating the required COVID-19 precautions can be Picture2complicated. Sometimes it might be obvious, but other times it might be a lot harder to determine.Many of the new COVID-19 regulations that employers must follow are different from one industry to the next, but workers can use New York State’s industry guidance and reopening website to find the COVID-19 regulations that govern their organization’s specific industry. Additionally, some COVID-19 regulations that apply to all businessesregardless of industry. These across-the-board regulations require every employer in New York State to provide each of their workers with face coverings when they are in direct contact with customers or members of the public, enforce social distancing, provide hand washing and sanitization stations, and make sure that cleaning and disinfection is occurring frequently. Another important rule that applies to all business in New York State declares that employers cannot threaten or retaliate against their employees for complaining that the business has failed to follow the required COVID-19 regulations. Workers who suspect their employer is violating New York’s COVID-19 safety regulations can first check New York’s COVID-19 regulations that apply to all businesses in the state, and can then further check New York’s industry-specific regulations that apply to businesses in their employer’s industry to make sure they are properly assessing whether their employer is providing a safe work environment.

  1. What should I do when my health and the health of others is put at risk because the legally required precautions are not being followed at my workplace?

Picture13pngWhen a business in New York is not following the required COVID-19 precautions, workers should consider filing a complaint against their employer. Workers can do so by filling out a COVID-19 complaint form through the New York State Department of Labor, by filing a health and safety complaint through OSHA, or by calling the New York State Attorney General’s office at (212) 416-8700. New York Attorney General Letitia James has urged workers to file complaints against their employers if they ignore the state’s new COVID-19 regulations. Employers are also legally barred from threatening or retaliating against their employees for filing these complaints. In addition to filing a complaint, to protect their own safety, as well as the safety of others, workers may consider taking extra measures like practicing the everyday preventative measures recommended for workers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Affected workers also have the option to get help from the University at Buffalo Law School’s COVID Response Legal Clinic, where student attorneys provide legal assistance to help with many of the new legal needs that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID Response Legal Clinic can be reached by email at law-covid@buffalo.edu.

  1. The Bottom Line

In a workplace scenario in New York State where an employee suspects that his or her employer is violating COVID-19 safety regulations, the worker should first consult New York’s statewide COVID-19 business regulations as well as the state’s industry-specific COVID-19 regulations to confirm whether the employer has committed a violation. If a violation has occurred, the worker should then file a complaint with OSHA, the New York State Department of Labor or verbalize a complaint via telephone to the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Workers across New York State who may need additional help with their specific situation can also reach out to the University at Buffalo Law School’s COVID Response Legal Clinic.

Important Links:

  1. Further information on complaints related to COVID-19 regulations in New York State.
  2. Industry-specific COVID-19 regulations.
  3. New York State Department of Labor COVID-19 complaint form.
  4. OSHA health and safety complaint form.
  5. University at Buffalo Law School’s COVID Response Legal Clinic.

Moran Charles



Charles Moran, Student Attorney

COVID Response Legal Clinic

JD, Class of 2021