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New paid and unpaid sick-leave law offers protections to NY workers

Work on the bill began in Albany before

Work on the bill began in Albany before the pandemic, but its benefits are crucial now, as many of the most at-risk workers are on the front lines, labor experts said. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

New York State’s new sick-leave law will provide more protections for workers at mom-and-pop businesses and for victims of domestic violence, even if they are part-time employees.

The law goes into effect Wednesday, when workers can begin accruing sick time, but employees may not begin using New York State Sick Leave benefits until Jan. 1.

"But when it does [take effect], it gives a little bit more peace of mind for employees to be able to call in sick without risk of getting fired, which is extremely important, especially in times of COVID," said Arthur Wheaton, director of Western NY Labor and Environmental Programs for the Worker Institute at Cornell University.

Most private employers are already providing 40 hours of paid time off a year to full-time workers, said attorney Domenique Camacho Moran, a partner and head of labor and employment practice at Farrell Fritz law firm in Uniondale. The biggest impact of the new law will be to mom-and-pop businesses, many of which don’t have formal policies for time off, and to part-time employees who have no leave benefits, she said.

The new law requires that employers provide paid or unpaid sick leave, with the amount varying based on their number of workers and net income.

"And, so, for part-time employees who may not work as often, they are going to accrue sick leave," Moran said.

What the law requires

  • Under the new law, employers with at least 100 employees must offer workers 56 hours of paid sick leave.
  • Employers with five to 99 employees, and those with fewer than five employees and net income of more than $1 million in the previous tax year, must give workers 40 hours of paid sick leave.
  • Employers with fewer than five employees and net income of less than $1 million in the previous tax year must provide 40 hours of unpaid sick leave.

Employees can accrue the sick leave – one hour for every 30 hours worked – or the employer can provide the time upfront at the start of the year.

The coverage can be used for the employees’ or their family members’ mental or physical illness, and preventative care and diagnosis, such as doctor’s appointments.

Also covered are employee absences related to domestic violence, including the worker obtaining services from a shelter, relocating or participating in legal proceedings.

Pre-pandemic bill

Work on the sick-leave legislation came about before the pandemic, but its benefits are more crucial now, as many of the most at-risk workers are on the front lines, labor experts said.

"That blue-collar sector … those are the people who go to work sick. They cannot afford to not get paid. And this law will make sure they don’t have to work sick and still get paid," Moran said.

Hanan Products, a Hicksville-based manufacturer of whipped toppings for cakes and other desserts, supplies its products to bakeries, grocery stores with bakeries and food distributors.

The company offers 120 hours of paid time off to its 24 employees to use for vacation or sick leave and at least five Fridays off in the summer, so the new law won’t affect the company, said Paul Hanan, chief financial officer.

Still, the law came as a surprise, he said.

"I guess I was surprised there was no law saying you have to have paid sick leave," he said.

"Just to give your employees that level of respect, you know, to give them a little safety net."

Federal law does not require any paid sick leave, Wheaton said.

But Congress did enact emergency legislation to temporarily give American workers paid time off work if they are absent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the pandemic, New York State passed a law in March requiring large employers to provide 14 days of paid sick leave to employees in quarantine, and mid-size and small employers worth more than $1 million to provide five days of paid sick leave, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

New York's New Sick Leave Law

The law goes into effect Sept. 30, but employees may not start using the benefits until Jan. 1.

  • Employers with 100 or more employees must provide 56 hours of paid sick leave.
  • Employers with 5 to 99 employees, and those with fewer than 5 employees and more than $1 million in net income in the previous tax year, must offer 40 hours of paid sick leave.
  • Employers with fewer than 5 employees and less than $1 million in net income in the previous tax year must offer 40 hours of unpaid sick leave.

Source: Jackson Lewis P.C.

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