April 25, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
City lawmakers have introduced legislation that would better protect whistleblowers from speaking out about safety practices at the workplace during COVID-19.
The bill – which was introduced by Councilmembers Ben Kallos, Brad Lander and Speaker Corey Johnson at Wednesday’s City Council meeting – looks to protect essential workers from speaking out against unsafe working conditions that may contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Kallos said that the legislation would protect workers from retaliation or being fired from their job without a “just cause.”
Employers would face fines of up to $2,500 for each violation, according to the legislation.
The bill stems from reports that medical workers were being threatened by their employers when they spoke out against equipment shortages and dire workplace conditions. The workers claimed that the conditions were putting their lives and patients at risk.
“Many have faced retaliation for speaking out against unsafe conditions and demanding protective equipment to keep them safe in order to better keep us safe,” Kallos said while introducing the legislation at Wednesday’s online sitting of City Council.
The bill extends in scope to all employees who are deemed to be essential workers during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown – some of whom have also been blowing the whistle on workplace conditions.
Under the legislation, essential workers are defined as people who work for businesses that are allowed to operate under Governor Cuomo’s March 18 economic shutdown order. Essential businesses include health care services, banks, grocery stores, pharmacies and more.
In March, an employee at Trader Joe’s Rego Park store contacted the Queens post about alleged unsafe work practices and how workers were being put at risk. The employee spoke anonymously in order to protect himself from retaliation.
Earlier this week Trader Joe’s confirmed that five of its staff members at its Rego Park store had tested positive for COVID-19.