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October 31, 2014

Governor Cuomo an d Mayor de Blasio Announce Program to Encourage Health Care Workers to Travel to West Africa to Treat Ebola Patients

On October 30, 2014, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York State and New York City will jointly create a program of financial incentives and other employment protections to encourage health care professionals to travel to West Africa to treat Ebola patients (the “Initiative”). The Initiative comes amid recent criticism heaped upon Governor Cuomo for his controversial decision to create a more rigorous screening process than otherwise established by federal guidelines for employees returning to New York from West Africa. New York State and New York City are coordinating the Initiative with the State of New Jersey, the Greater New York Hospital Association, 1199 SEIU, and NYSNA, among other partners.  

The Initiative is expected to be modeled after the benefits and rights provided to military reservists who leave their jobs to serve in the armed forces. Specifically, the Initiative is expected to ensure that employees in New York State and New York City who travel to West Africa to treat Ebola patients will have their pay, health care and employment statuses continue upon their return. According to the Initiative, New York State also plans to provide reimbursements to health care workers and their employers for any quarantines that are needed upon those employees’ return.

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We emphasize that while plans to implement the Initiative have been announced, no specific details, including when the Initiative will become effective and what enforcement mechanisms will be in place, have yet been revealed. It is also unclear whether the Initiative will apply only to protect health care workers, or whether the protections extend to family members of health care workers who treat Ebola patients.  

We will continue to monitor the Initiative and will provide further guidance once the program is created. Employers should be mindful that they may soon be required to comply with  new obligations to protect the employment status, pay and health care status of health care workers who travel to West Africa to treat Ebola patients or treat patients in Ebola stricken areas.