Bill will provide “just cause” and whistleblower protections for health care workers who raise concerns about health & safety conditions in their institutions.

New York, NY—Today, New York City Council Members Brad Lander, Mark Levine, Carlina Rivera, Ben Kallos, and Adrienne Adams announced their plan to introduce legislation to expand workplace protections for health care workers. In the midst of a public health crisis where doctors, nurses, administrative staff, and cleaners are putting themselves on the line every day to care for sick New Yorkers, health care workers have faced retaliation for speaking out against unsafe conditions. The proposed legislation would establish just cause and whistleblower protections for health care workers, preventing them from being fired for speaking publicly about conditions in their institutions. 

The bill, though critically important during the COVID-19 crisis, will offer permanent protections for these workers long after the crisis dissipates. It is modeled on “just cause” legislation sponsored by Council Members Lander and Adrienne Adams to protect fast-food workers from unfair firings. 

“At a time when the very lives of our hospital and health care workers are on the line, it is unconscionable that they would be fired for ringing the alarm bell about health and safety issues,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “It is imperative that we stand up for these doctors, nurses, and health care workers, listen to and lift up their concerns, and ensure that they cannot be unjustly fired for telling the truth about the conditions they face.”

“Our city’s health care workers have been a critical voice in helping us better understand the nature of the COVID-19 outbreak and how we need to improve our response to this crisis,” said Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Health. “We need these workers to be able to speak freely, without fear of professional retribution when they see serious problems within our health system. They are on the front lines of this battle and the public needs to be able to hear their concerns.”

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, New Yorkers deserve the truth about the conditions in our hospitals, even when the news is very dire,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera, Chair of the Committee on Hospitals. “We can only solve the challenges our healthcare system is facing if our heroic frontline healthcare workers can operate and speak out without the fear of a gag order.”

“Our city’s doctors and nurses, who are the hands-on heroes of this crisis, must be allowed to speak up to protect their safety and the wellbeing of their patients without risking their jobs. They are the whistleblowers who can tell us the full story so we know where our healthcare system is succeeding and where we need to do more to fight this pandemic and save as many lives as we can,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “We must protect our healthcare workers now more than ever with strong whistleblower protections as many of them may be forced to sound the alarm about safety conditions at their facilities.”

“In this time of crisis our health care workers are putting themselves on the line every day and it is outrageous that they would be disciplined or terminated for speaking out against unsafe conditions,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “Health care workers deserve just cause protections. Our health care workers are essential, not disposable.”

In the last week, Mount Sinai Health System, NYU Langone Health, and Northwell Health each issued guidance to their workers about acceptable public communication, some threatening termination if the communication is not first cleared by executive-level staff. New York City’s 11 public hospitals have not issued such warnings and the Council Members urge the private hospital network and all healthcare institutions to follow the lead of New York City’s Health + Hospitals and allow their frontline workers to speak out without fear of an unfair firing. 

“It is imperative that we hear from nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers about their experience with COVID-19 so that we can best chart a course to protect the public’s health.   With these protections we deliver a blow to the spread of this terrible virus,” said Pat Kane, RN, Executive Director, New York Nurses Association.

“In New York and throughout the country, Resident Physicians are being told by administration to take down our social media posts about our working conditions and even threatening our careers if we speak to the media,” said Dr. Linda Alvarez, Secretary Treasurer of the Committee of Interns and Residents, SEIU. “The world has the right to know what is going on and we applaud the efforts made by elected leaders to provide protection to all healthcare workers. Our voices are too important to be silenced in this critical moment.”

“32BJ stands in solidarity with front line health care workers who are speaking up for workplace rights,” said 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg. “We have stood with fast food workers fighting for these same protections and will continue to advocate with Council Members Lander and Adams to ensure those worker protections are passed. When workers are not allowed to speak up about unsafe work conditions – we are all at risk.”

“Doctors Council SEIU represents doctors on the frontline fighting against COVID-19 and to save our patients’ lives. As a doctors’ union, we believe speaking out about what we and our patients need is a natural extension of being a patient advocate. We took an oath to do no harm and staying silent will harm our patients and our colleagues. We renew our call to action for the federal government to lead and get us more N95 masks, PPE and ventilators. The best way to beat this insidious disease is through the input of doctors and other healthcare workers. Silencing our voices serves no public good and we applaud the City Council protecting the ability of those of us on the frontlines fighting the Coronavirus to speak out for what our patients and we need without fear of losing our jobs.  We are all in this together and truly are stronger together when all our voices are hard,” said Frank Proscia, M.D., President, Doctors Council SEIU. 

“New York City’s healthcare workers are putting their own health and safety on the line to get us through this crisis, and they need to know that they are protected from retaliation from their employers when they raise concerns that affect us all,” said New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO President Vincent Alvarez. “No one, especially our critical frontline workers, should have to fear losing their job for speaking out about unsafe conditions that threaten not only them, but the families they go home to, and the people they’re caring for.”  

“New York’s health care workers need to be free to communicate to the public about the dire health threats the COVID crisis poses for all of us. New York should act swiftly to adopt just cause employment protections for this vital workforce to ensure health worker whistleblowers do not face reprisal or retaliation when they speak up,” said Debbie Berkowitz, Director of Worker Health and Safety, National Employment Law Project.