New York Forward is the state’s plan to begin re-opening in phases as regions of the state achieve certain COVID-19 management metrics. An important part of New York Forward is for all businesses to have a customized, written safety plan that details specifically how each business will prevent and manage COVID-19. Details for particular industries, including agriculture can be found here: https://forward.ny.gov/industries-reopening-phase.
All Farms Need a Plan
All farms are required to have a written plan, this includes essential, food-producing farms (e.g., dairy, fruit, vegetable) that have been open all along, and non-food-producing farms (e.g., ornamental horticulture, equine). The state provides a Business Safety Plan Template that farmers can use to meet the requirement. Completed safety plans do “not need to be submitted to a state agency for approval but must be retained on the premises of the business and must (be) made available to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) or local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection.” If a business already has a prior written plan that addresses some or all of the issues in the safety plan, then that plan can be updated to current guidelines and used as the safety plan. A Cornell Extension team is working to develop further educational resources to help farms with safety plan compliance.
New Guidelines for Non-Food Farms
Detailed Guidelines for Non-Food Agriculture (e.g., ornamental horticulture, equine) is part of the New York Forward plan. These businesses may re-open as of May 15 if they are in a region that meets the state’s metrics, they have a safety plan developed, and they are actively carrying out all aspects of that plan. Note that the state instructs farms at the end of the guidance document to “affirm that you have read and understand your obligation to operate in accordance with this guidance: https://forms.ny.gov/s3/ny-forward-affirmation.”
It is not entirely clear at this time how the state will enforce the New York Forward guidance but most likely enforcement will be complaint driven as incidents arise. The New York Forward plan includes an online form and phone number for anyone to file a complaint, the NY State Department of Labor has a separate online form for employees to file COVID-19-related complaints against their employers. Certainly, businesses will need to provide their safety plans in the event of an actual COVID-19 case or outbreak in the business. Enforcement, however, should not be the primary motivating factor. Farm businesses should develop safety plans and continue safety practices to protect employees, customers, services providers, neighbors, and communities because it is the right thing to do.
A likely outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in lawsuits: customers might sue businesses they interacted with and employees might sue their employers for real or perceived injuries. These are highly uncertain times but farm businesses can take steps to help control the risk of being sued and improve their ability to defend themselves in court. This topic deserves a more complete discussion, but for now, consider taking every action you can to: 1. understand government requirements, 2. develop plans and procedures to meet requirements, 3. enforce discipline and compliance with established procedures in your workplace, and 4. document your plans, actions, and important decisions that affect employees and customers.
By Richard Stup, Cornell University. Permission granted to repost, quote, and reprint with author attribution.
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