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Many New York Employers Will Have Increased Sick Leave Obligations

             New York State employers will be required to provide their employees with sick leave under New York’s new Sick Leave Act. Employees will begin to accrue sick leave under the law on September 30, 2020 and may begin taking leave days as of January 1, 2021. This new sick leave law is a permanent change in the law and is separate from special leave rights for employees affected by the coronavirus emergency. It is also separate from New York City’s existing sick leave law, although many of the requirements overlap.

The minimum amount of sick leave that must be provided depends on the size of the employer. If the employer has 4 or fewer employees, each employee must be allowed 40 hours of sick leave per year. The leave may be unpaid if the employer’s net income during the previous tax year was less than $1 million, and otherwise must be paid. Employers with between 5 and 99 employees must provide each employee with at least 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. Employers with 100 or more employees must provide at least 56 hours of paid sick leave per year. Paid sick leave time must be compensated at the employee’s regular rate of pay. The law also allows employees to carry up to one year’s unused sick leave over to the following calendar year, but does not require payment for unused leave time at the termination of employment.

Sick leave under the law may be used for the mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition of an employee or an employee’s family member. There is no requirement that the condition must have been diagnosed or must require medical treatment. Sick leave may also be used for the diagnosis, care, or treatment of such a condition or for preventative care. In addition, sick leave may be used for reasons relating to an employee’s or an employee’s family member’s being the victim of domestic violence, a family or sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking. The law defines a “family member” as including an employee’s child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, grandchild, grandparent, or the child or parent of the employee’s spouse or domestic partner. Employees may not be required to disclose confidential information relating to the reason for use of sick leave. Employers are required to reinstate an employee returning from sick leave to his or her position and are prohibited from retaliating against an employee for using sick leave.

Employers that already offer sick leave or paid time off to their employees meeting these standards are not required to make any changes to their policies. Because the details of the new Sick Leave Law are complex, and the State Commissioner of Labor is expected to issue regulations that will provide further details about employers’ obligations, employers should consult with their legal counsel before the law takes effect to ensure that their existing or new sick leave policies comply with the new requirements.