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Joint letter to Governor Cuomo from NYFB and farmworker advocate organizations
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Updated Farm/Farmworker COVID-19 Guidance Released by New York State
The New York State Departments of Health, Labor and Agriculture and Markets released today revised farm and farmworker guidance documents for COVID-19 prevention and response, in addition to a farm operator checklist to help maintain a healthy workforce. New York Farm Bureau has been working to obtain the release of these documents over the recent weeks.
Links to the documents in English are below,
Links to Spanish versions are below:
NEC Update: CDC also Issues COVID-19 Farm Guidance
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released specific guidance today for agricultural workers and employers to assist in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and to help lower the disease’s impact at agricultural worksites. The guidance can be found by clicking here.
Last week New York State released its own COVID-19 guidance for the agricultural industry. It is generally recommended that you refer to your state guidance first, as state guidance typically overrides federal guidance in these instances.
“Recent stories in both national and local news have shown how COVID-19 has the potential to severely impact workers and farm productivity,”, said Dr. Julie Sorensen, Director of the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety in Farming, Commercial Fishing and Forestry (NEC). Sorensen noted that COVID-19 impacts have been severe in some cases, with operations either being completely shut down or creating labor shortages that have required euthanizing livestock or loss of product. “Prevention of COVID-19 will be key to managing the crisis and this guidance provides specific information for agriculture—and essential industry,” said Sorensen.
For more information specific to workplace health and safety concerns in these industries and how they relate to the coronavirus pandemic, click here.
Communicating Basic Hygiene to Farm Employees
Workplace safety is critical. DO NOT DELAY IF YOU HAVEN’T DISCUSSED THIS WITH YOUR WORKFORCE. NYCAMH has issued guidance for employers to speak about COVID-19 with their employees, including Spanish language instruction for migrant employees. Hand washing is a first defense against protecting oneself and others from Coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Here are a few tips when communicating hand hygiene basics to farm employees:
1. Keep It Simple. More than half of U.S. adults have limited literacy skills, and 9 out of 10 have trouble understanding complex health information.
2. Show. When it comes to hand washing, show how it’s done. We recommend the following CDC videos:
In English: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/videos.html
In Spanish: https://www.cdc.gov/cdctv/spanish/healthyliving/acabe-con-los-microbios.html
If your workers have the ability to watch on their phones, text them the link. They can then re-watch at home and share with friends and family.
Illustrated posters on personal hygiene are available in English and Spanish
3. REPEAT. Continue to remind workers to wash their hands. Place simple signs or posters in key locations, such as in bathrooms, entryways, exits, where they cook, and where they clock in or out.
Cornell Ag Workforce Resources
Please check out the COVID-19 webpage for Cornell CALS’ Agricultural Workforce Development Program. It includes frequent updates on guidance, webinars and human resource info to help your business and employee needs. Click here for more info.
Spanish Language COVID Training Video for Farmworkers
Spanish-speaking farmworkers can learn about COVID-19 and needed precautions, both at home and at work. This video produced by Libby Eiholzer of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Lisa Ford of Cayuga Marketing, and Anna Meyerhoff, of NY Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) was developed especially for agricultural workers. The audio is in Spanish, but subtitles are available in English through closed captioning. Click here to view.
Safely Transporting Farmworkers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Farmworkers often travel together in crowded pickup trucks, vans and buses, making social distancing a challenge. The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) has developed the guidance to help keep workers safer while traveling. For more information, click here. Click here for disinfecting farm surfaces poster.
Tractors and Machinery Operated by Multiple Users: How to Clean and Disinfect during COVID-19
Often more than one person operates the same tractor or piece of machinery on a farm operation in the course of a day’s or week’s work. Driving shared tractors and machinery may put operators at risk of contracting COVID-19 if care is not taken to clean and disinfect them thoroughly between operators. NYCAMH Agricultural Safety Specialist Jim Carrabba has written guidance and a safety checklist to help keep everyone on your farm safe. Click here to read.
Cloth Face Coverings vs. Respirators: What’s the difference and when should we use them?
Respirators and cloth face coverings provide different types of protection and prevent exposures in different ways. NYCAMH & NEC safety educator Christina Hall provides a breakdown on different options and when to use them. Click here to read.
A Notice from NYCAMH: Free Diagnostic Testing for People who Work in Agriculture
As New York State’s capacity to test for COVID-19 is expanding, “essential employees”—including those who work in agriculture—are being prioritized for diagnostic testing, according to the NYS Department of Health’s revised guidance. (See “Can I Be Tested?” at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-testing).
This means that if you own or work on a farm operation and would like to get free testing, you should be able to schedule an appointment for a free diagnostic test at a state testing facility. To request an appointment, “essential workers,” which includes anyone working in production agriculture, can complete an assessment at https://covid19screening.health.ny.gov/ or contact the state’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065.
Potential COVID-19 Risk Factors for Farmers and Employees
The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) would like to make farmers aware of the unique factors that may put them at increased risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19. Even though most farmers in New York live outside the major ‘hot-spot’ areas, there is still reason to be vigilant about social distancing, hand washing, and using fabric face coverings in public. COVID-19 positive patients have been reported in every single New York State county.
While some people experience little to no symptoms though they have COVID-19, people who are older, have asthma, are men, or have underlying health conditions are at increased risk of severe illness. NYCAMH research published in 2015 showed that Upstate New York farmers (men) had an increased rate of asthma and uncontrolled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) over their rural male neighbors. No surprise, the latest Census of Agriculture also shows our farmers are growing older, and the majority of those in farming are still men, who are at higher risk.
While farmers are so often willing to take care of everyone else first, please don’t ignore the important symptoms of COVID-19. If you begin to experience fever, dry cough, headaches, or shortness of breath contact your primary healthcare provider. You can also contact the NYS Department of Health COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065. COVID-19 testing is free in New York State. Need advice on how to cope with the flood of changes that COVID-19 has brought to your family, business and workers? Contact NYCAMH at 1-800-343-7527 or visit its COVID-19 website where they can help with stress management through its Farm Partners Program.
Workforce Guidance & Regulations
Steps Dairy Managers Should Consider to Protect Their Workforce, Business and Markets
Cornell Agricultural Workforce Specialist, Dr. Rich Stup, and Rob Lynch, DVM, of Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY held a webinar to provide dairy farms with important information as it related to protecting their farms during the COVID 19 pandemic. Topics include: why prevention of the coronavirus/COVID-19 is important, steps that employers should take to protect employees, animal health considerations, what to do if service providers are not available, disaster contingency plans, cross-training of employees who can fill other roles, business resources for employers, and pending federal and state legislation related to coronavirus and employees. The webinar is available by clicking here.
Managing U-Pick Operations During Pandemic
Cornell CALS’s Small Farms Programs is issuing recommendations for U-Pick farms. U-Pick offers a critical direct marketing approach for many of farms and provides customers with a unique connection to fresh produce grown close to home. In light of the spread of COVID-19, new management practices will be needed to protect your farm team and your customers. Click here for the document that provides recommended practices and communication strategies for U-Pick operations for the 2020 season. Click here for additional prevention and control tips for produce farms.
Guidance on DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has released a guidance document to provide clarity to employers and employees on conducting DOT drug and alcohol testing during COVID-19. Also, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a guidance document with recommended actions for FMCSA-regulated employers unable to conduct alcohol and drug testing due to COVID-19. The FMCSA guidance is in effect until May 30, 2020. Employers and employees still need to be utilizing the FMCSA CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse database.
NYSDOH Issues Protocols for Employers on Essential Personnel Return to Work Following COVID-19 Exposure or Infection
New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) has released guidance on protocols for essential personnel returning to work following COVID-19 exposure or infection. Public and private sector organizations that provide essential services or functions where personnel are needed to perform critical functions, including infrastructure, public safety, and other essential operations, may allow personnel who were exposed to or are recovering from COVID-19 to work in the workplace setting, if needed to maintain essential operations.
Essential personnel who have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 can be permitted to work in the required workplace setting if certain conditions are met. Some of those conditions are when working from home is not feasible, when personnel are asymptomatic, employees undergo a prescribed protocol of temperature taking, and personnel required to interact with individuals within 6 feet should wear a facemask1 while working for 14 days following the last exposure.
These and other protocols for essential personnel to return to work following COVID-19 exposure or infection are available at this link.
Current guidance on who are Essential Personnel can be found at this link.
NYSDOH Issues Advisory on Discontinuing Home Isolation for Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Individuals
New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) has released guidance to Healthcare Providers, Healthcare Facilities, Clinical Laboratories, and Local Health Departments regarding individuals who were confirmed as having COVID-19 discontinuing home isolation.
Symptomatic individuals who were confirmed as having COVID-19 may discontinue home isolation once they meet the following conditions:
- At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications; AND
- Improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); AND
- At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
Asymptomatic individuals who were confirmed as having COVID-19 may discontinue home isolation under the following conditions:
- At least 7 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test; AND
- The individual has had no subsequent illness.
More information is available here.
COVID-19 Health Coverage for Undocumented Workers
According to a guidance released by The New York State Department of Health, the state will treat all COVID-19-related health services under Medicaid. Accordingly, these expenses will be reimbursed by Medicaid for undocumented New Yorkers.
Medicaid coverage for undocumented immigrants is limited to emergency services only. COVID- 19 lab testing, evaluation, and treatment are emergency services and will be reimbursed by NYS Medicaid for individuals with coverage code “07.” Claims submitted for COVID-19 tests and practitioner. The entire document can be found by clicking here.
Reminder to Employers: New York’s Wage Theft Protection Act
New York passed the Wage Theft Protection Act in 2010. Among other things, it provides written notice of wage rates to each new hire. The notice must include:
Rate or rates of pay, including overtime rate of pay (if it applies); how the employee is paid: by the hour, shift, day, week, commission, etc.; regular payday; official name of the employer and any other names used for business (DBA); address and phone number of the employer's main office or principal location; and allowances taken as part of the minimum wage (tips, meal and lodging deductions).
NYFB reminds its members that if any data in the notice changes, the employer must tell employees at least a week before it happens. For example, in the event your employees are going to receive a reduction in pay during the COVID-19 crisis, you must notify them in writing one week prior to the reduction being implemented. For more information, click here.
Federal Labor and H-2A Guidance/Regulations
Temporary Policy for Form I-9 List B Documents
Due to COVID-19, the Department of Homeland Security is issuing a temporary policy regarding expired List B identity documents used to complete Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Given that many areas are under stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 and some online renewal services have restrictions, employees may experience challenges renewing a state driver’s license, a state ID card, or other Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, List B identity documents. Beginning May 1, identity documents found in List B set to expire on or after March 1, 2020, and not otherwise extended by the issuing authority, may be treated the same as if the employee presented a valid receipt for an acceptable document for Form I-9 purposes.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued the following instructions to employers: When an employee provides an acceptable expired List B document that has not been extended by the issuing authority the employer should:
- Record the document information in Section 2 under List B, as applicable; and
- Enter the word “COVID-19” in the Additional Information Field.
- Within 90 days after DHS’s termination of this temporary policy, the employee will be required to present a valid unexpired document to replace the expired document presented when they were initially hired.
For more information and guidance from USCIS, click here. A factsheet on I-9 Forms can be found here.
U.S. DOL Releases Additional Guidance on H-2A
The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Foreign Labor Certification has released a Round 2 FAQ document regarding COVID-19. The FAQs address potential issues regarding the H-2A program. A copy of the guidance can be found here. Farmers can also find updates at www.farmers.gov/manage/H2A. Information regarding specific embassy visa processing can be found at each embassy website.
Arriving H-2A Workers: Reconciling Isolation and Essential Status
Much confusion exists about the availability for work of H-2A workers who are newly arriving from a foreign country. Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development Specialist, Dr. Richard Stup, aims to clarify the issue for farmers and offers suggested guidance on workforce procedures for guest workers arriving on farms in the pandemic. Click here to read the post.
H-2A Virtual Housing Inspections, Database of Workers, Termination of Existing Job Orders
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenging and uncertain situation for H-2A growers, workers, and the agencies who serve them. Cornell CALS Agricultural Workforce Development Specialist, Dr. Richard Stup, has compiled additional resources to assist farmers. Click here to read more on housing inspections, worker database and terminating an existing job order.
USCIS Gives H-2A Workers Temporary Flexibility to Stay and Work Longer, Allows For Housing Flexibility
The notice was published in the Federal register that gives H-2A workers temporary flexibility to stay and work longer in the United States. This will be welcome news for farmers who are scrambling this year to make sure they have enough workers to carry out the season’s production. Employers who find they need their H-2A employees longer than originally planned can have those workers continue to work while awaiting approval from USCIS for an extension request. In addition, allowing H-2A workers to stay beyond the usual three year individual maximum time and will allow more workers to move from job order to job order without having to return to their home country for a few months. This should make more workers available! and eligible for work in the U.S. at a time when they are desperately needed. H-2A Employers now have housing flexibility to provide for workers, access to expanded emergency job orders, and access to a database of workers already in the country. Further information can be found on the Cornell Agriculture Workforce Development page here.
Federal Coronavirus Paid Leave – Required Posters
The U.S. Department of Labor has issued guidance explaining paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. A copy of the guidance can be found here. In addition, USDOL has also issued the official workplace posters that employers are required to post to inform employees of these benefits. A copy of the poster can be found here and a copy of the poster in Spanish can be found here. Posters must be displayed in a conspicuous place. If the workplace is closed, employers must still get them to staff and may email them to staff. NYFB’s factsheet on the federal paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave can be found here.
American Farm Bureau Federation Offering COVID-19 Updates
Similar to NYFB’s new webpage devoted to the latest on the Coronavirus, AFBF is also offering a clearinghouse of information on its website. Click here for additional stories and messages from the national organization.