26

January, 2021

NYS Employers Required to Provide Multiple Rounds of COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave

By Tracey I. Levy

Employers in New York State may have to pay employees at full salary for more than six weeks of COVID-19 leave (in addition to all other paid leave benefits offered by the employer or mandated by law) under new guidance issued by the New York State Department of Labor (“NYS DOL”) on January 20, 2021.  This is precisely the position that we flagged as a troubling open issue in our prior blog posting, Extension of FFCRA Credit Helps NYS Employers.

The NYS DOL guidance provides that if an employee who returns to work following a period of quarantine or isolation subsequently tests positive for COVID-19, the employee must submit proof of the positive test result and is not allowed to come to work.  Rather, the employee is deemed to be subject to a new mandatory order of isolation and is entitled to New York State’s paid COVID-19 leave law, irrespective of whether the employee already received a full two weeks of paid COVID-19 leave for the prior quarantine.  Similarly, if an employee has been out on COVID-19 leave due to a quarantine or isolation order and continues to test positive for COVID-19 after the end of the quarantine or isolation period, the employee cannot come to work.  Instead, upon proof of the positive test result, the employee is entitled to an additional period of COVID-19 paid leave.

In addition, if an employer mandates that an employee who is not otherwise subject to a quarantine or isolation order remain out of work due to actual or potential exposure to COVID-19 (from any source), then the employer has to continue to pay the employee’s regular salary for so long as the employer requires the employee to stay away from work or until such time as the employee actually becomes subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation.  If and when the employee is subject to a quarantine/isolation order, the clock will then begin running on the mandatory New York COVID-19 sick leave period, but the period of paid leave preceding issuance of the order will not count as part of the two-week COVID-19-leave period.

The one concession to employers offered by the new guidance is that they need not endure more than three rounds of paying COVID-19 sick leave for a quarantined employee.  Also, while the first COVID-19 paid sick leave period may arise based on the employee being subject to a COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation order for any reason, the second and third rounds must be predicated on the employee personally testing positive for COVID-19.

Employers have limited options under this new guidance.  Some attorneys have suggested that the guidance (which does not have the same force as a regulation) is subject to challenge on the grounds that it exceeds the scope of the law.  Short of commencing litigation, employers can bear the cost of the more expansively-interpreted law and look to the FFCRA tax credit to offset the costs of each employee’s first round of New York State COVID-19 paid leave.  While the tax credit is set to expire March 31, 2021, it may be extended as part of the latest federal COVID-19 relief legislation.  Notably, New York State’s COVID-19 leave is not available if an employee is able to work remotely, so employers should maximize that opportunity whenever an employee is quarantined but either has not tested positive or is experiencing few symptoms and feels well enough to work.

One other option for employers that are really struggling financially at this time may be to suspend or temporarily reduce vacation or other paid time off benefits for the duration of the pandemic so as to offset the employers’ salary continuation obligations under the COVID-19 leave law.  In most non-union situations, New York State employers are able to modify their paid time off policies at any time, provided employees continue to receive the leave time to which they are entitled by law.  Vacation and extended PTO days fall outside those statutory requirements, and employers generally have flexibility to modify those policies.  It is advisable, though, to consider the  resulting impact to employee morale, and to consult legal counsel before making any such modifications in this context.

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30

December, 2020

Extension of FFCRA Credit Helps NYS Employers

By Tracey I. Levy

As a post-script to our last blog post, the latest federal COVID-19 relief package, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020, includes a short-term extension of the FFCRA tax credit that offers some additional financial relief for New York State employers.  As we previously discussed, the paid leave requirements of the FFCRA are set to expire December 31, 2020, and the new COVID-19 relief package allows those requirements to sunset.  However, those employers that voluntarily elect to continue to provide the paid leave that was available under the FFCRA, under that law’s eligibility requirements, can continue to claim a federal payroll tax credit through March 31, 2021 to offset the cost of that leave.  New York employers do not have an option with regard to providing COVID-19 leave, and therefore the extension of the FFCRA credit may be a valuable benefit to manage the associated costs.

There are some notable limitations on which employers can benefit from the federal tax credit:

  • Large Employers

Employers with more than 500 employees are subject to the New York State paid leave requirements, but were not subject to the FFCRA paid leave requirement and therefore cannot claim the credit;

  • Multiple Quarantines for the Same Employee

To the extent the reasons for leave under the FFCRA and New York State law have overlapped, the FFCRA tax credit was limited to a total of ten days of paid leave, per employee.  However, the New York State law does not appear to place a limit on the number of times an employee can receive paid leave, provided each leave is in accordance with a government-mandated quarantine or isolation order.  Once an employer has claimed the FFCRA tax credit for an employee, it appears that it cannot be claimed again for a repeat occurrence of quarantine.

New York State employers should consult with their tax advisor with regard to the availability of the tax credit in specific circumstances.

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17

December, 2020

FFCRA Is Ending, But NYS Employers Still Have COVID-Leave Obligations

By Tracey I. Levy

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), which provides up to two weeks of paid, job-protected sick leave to covered employees for a variety of COVID-related reasons, and additional leave for care of a child related to COVID, is scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2020. Presently, there seems to be limited legislative or executive effort to extend the law beyond that date, even as we remain in the throes of the pandemic. That means that, as of January 1, 2021, employees will no longer be eligible for FFCRA leave, any employee who is on leave as of December 31, 2020 will be ineligible for continued leave after that date, and employers who continue to grant employees leave for an FFCRA-qualifying reason will not be entitled to claim tax credits for paid COVID leave days subsequent to December 31. In a nutshell, the sunset clause means an end to any federal paid leave benefit or tax credit, and restoration to the way things were back in March 2020, before the pandemic.

While those consequences are relatively simple to explain, the interplay with New York State law makes things a bit more complicated. New York State passed its own COVID-related leave law, which took effect on the same day as the FFCRA. New York State’s law grants all employees COVID-related leave if an employee is personally subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19, provided the employee is not physically able to work remotely while under quarantine. Employees are disqualified from the NYS COVID-related leave benefit only if they are being quarantined for having traveled outside the U.S., for non-work-mandated reasons, to a country for which the employee was on advance notice of a level two or level three travel notice having been issued by the CDC. New York State’s COVID-related leave law has no sunset date; rather, the leave benefit is specifically tied to COVID-19 and therefore, for as long as employees are subject to COVID-related quarantine or isolation orders, they remain eligible for the benefits provided under the state’s law.

As we noted previously in the Summer 2020 issue of our newsletter, Takeaways, employees who are directed by a healthcare provider to quarantine or isolate can obtain a quarantine or isolation order by following a process jointly defined by the New York State Departments of Health and Labor to request such an order from their local health department. New York City had issued a standing order with various appendices that, when satisfied, would be deemed to meet the state law quarantine order requirement, but the city has since withdrawn that page from its website.

For those employees who meet the NYS eligibility criteria, employers must provide the following, depending on their profitability and the size of their workforce:

  • 14 calendar days of job-protected, paid COVID-related leave, at the employee’s regular rate of pay, if the employer has 100 or more employees;
  • 5 calendar days of job-protected, paid COVID-related leave, at the employee’s regular rate of pay, and an additional 9 calendar days of job-protected, unpaid leave, if the employer has 11 to 99 employees or has fewer employees but had a net profit of $1,000,000 or more last year; and
  • 14 calendar days of job-protected, unpaid COVID-related leave, for all other employers with 10 or fewer employees.

Employees are entitled to apply for New York State Short-Term Disability and Paid Family Leave benefits, simultaneously and without any waiting period, during the unpaid portion of their quarantine leave, and all COVID-related leave is in addition to, and gets used before, any paid time off the employee may have otherwise available under the employer’s paid leave policies or the new New York State paid sick leave law.  New York State provides no reimbursement or subsidy to employers for the paid sick leave benefits required under the law.

As a reminder, FFCRA also provided employees with partially-paid leave benefits, of varying duration, in the event they were caring for a child or family member who was quarantined due to COVID. New York State law has no similar provision. However, to the extent an employee meets the eligibility criteria for Paid Family Leave (having worked at least 20 hours per week for 26 consecutive weeks), if either (i) the employee’s child has been quarantined and the employee is unable to work remotely while caring for that child, or (ii) the employee is unable to work because the employee needs to care for a close family member who contracts COVID-19, the employee can submit a claim for job-protected Paid Family Leave and receive paid time off benefits under that program.

New York State employers must therefore continue to provide COVID-related paid sick leave benefits to their employees, where the eligibility criteria are met, and shoulder those benefit costs, for as long as we are facing COVID-19-related quarantine orders.

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11

December, 2020

Structuring a Paid Sick Leave Policy for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut

By Tracey I. Levy and Alexandra Lapes

By this January 2021, paid sick leave laws will impact all employers throughout the tri-state area of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.  The laws have some commonalities, but there are notable differences across jurisdictions that make it challenging for employers to draft a uniform policy.

Consensus at the Macro Level:

The sick leave laws all permit eligible employees of covered employers to accrue up to 40 hours of sick leave per calendar year. This leave can, at a minimum, be used for the employee’s or family member’s illness, injury, or preventive medical care or treatment, and if an employee or family member is a victim of domestic violence/sexual violence (including the need to obtain related safety measures).  Employees minimally must provide notice as soon as practicable prior to taking a sick day. For absences of more than three consecutive days, employers may request documentation to substantiate the need for leave but must keep confidential the information they receive.  In addition, all prohibit retaliation against employees who exercise their sick/safe leave rights.

Divergence in Key Details:

Connecticut’s sick leave law is limited to non-exempt service works (as defined by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), excluding manufacturing and not-for-profits.  The New Jersey, New York City, and New York State laws apply to all private employers, although in New York State and New York City, the leave need only be paid if the employer has 5 or more employees, unless an employer made more than $1 million in the previous tax year, and employers with 100 or more employees must provide a total of 7 days (56 hours) of paid sick/safe leave per calendar year.

The following chart summarizes key jurisdictional differences that relate to employment policies.  Employers should additionally be mindful that Connecticut, New York City and New Jersey all require providing employees with notice of their sick leave rights, and New York City and State impose additional recordkeeping requirements on employers with regard to paid sick leave accruals.

Paid Sick Leave Provisions

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30

November, 2020

Three Key Employment Items to Address Before the New Year

By Tracey I. Levy and Alexandra Lapes

As the new year quickly approaches, employers should aim to update their policies and practices to stay legally compliant and prepare their workforce for the new year.   In particular, employers in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey need to ensure they are complying with harassment prevention training requirements, have updated their sick and safe leave and their harassment and discrimination prevention policies, and have updated their procedures to meet new notice, payroll, and tracking requirements.

1. Training

This is year two for meeting the annual New York State and New York City interactive sexual harassment prevention training requirements.  Employers that have not yet conducted training this year should make that a priority before year-end to remain in compliance at both the state and city levels.  Note, for new hires, New York City requires employers with 15 or more employees to conduct initial training within their first 90 days, and all other New York employers are subject to the state’s requirement for training to be conducted as soon as practicable after hire.  When conducting the training, employees must be provided with a copy of the employer’s sexual harassment prevention policy, training materials, and a notice of employee rights.

Connecticut employers are also required to conduct sexual harassment prevention training, and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities recently extended that deadline to January 1, 2021.  Employers with three or more employees must train all their employees, while the smallest employers need only train those in a supervisory role.  Meeting this training obligation will satisfy an employer’s legal requirements for the next ten years as to existing employees, but on an ongoing basis, new hires need to be trained within six months after they are hired.

2. Policies

Employers should review and revise their employee handbook policies on sick and safe leave, harassment prevention, and anti-discrimination, to ensure compliance with recent changes in the law.

  • Sick and safe leave
    • New York State adopted a state-wide paid sick leave law (in addition to the pandemic-related paid leave law), that requires employers to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave per year, depending on the size of the employer.
    • New York City expanded its paid sick leave law to mirror and expand upon the state law provisions. The amendments will require New York City employers to update their paid leave policies to reflect the new updated accrual amounts and eliminate certain eligibility and waiting period requirements, as well as to add “domestic violence” as an additional basis for taking leave.
    • While Westchester County has its own paid sick leave law, the county has posted a notice on its website that the state law now governs paid leave and employers should refer to the state law for their rights and obligations. Note that there is no similar notice with regard to the Westchester County paid safe leave law, and employers should therefore assume that the safe leave law’s separate paid leave requirements are still in full force.
  • Harassment and discrimination prevention
    • Employers in New York State should update their harassment prevention policies to reflect the State Human Rights Law’s new definition of sexual harassment.
    • New York State employers must also update their policies to provide employees with appropriate notice of their rights and remedies with regard to reproductive health decisions, including a prohibition against discrimination and retaliation based on an employee’s or an employee’s dependent’s reproductive health decision-making.

3. Notice Requirements

The following payroll and tracking procedures must be put in place, in addition to meeting new notice and posting requirements.

  • Payroll and Tracking
  • New York State employers must:
    • Maintain paid sick leave records for no less than six years; and
    • Be prepared to timely provide employees with a summary of the amount of sick leave accrued and used upon request.
  • New York City employers must additionally provide:
    • Accrual, usage, and paid sick leave balance information to employees each pay period;
    • Written notice by January 1, 2021 (see notice link here) of employees’ paid sick leave rights at hire and to current employees of organizations with 100 or more employees, and conspicuously post that notice; and
    • Retain compliance records for at least three years.
  • Westchester County employers must additionally provide:
    • A Notice of Employee Rights and a copy of the County’s Safe Leave Law to all new hires; and
    • Display the required Safe Time poster both in English and Spanish, in a conspicuous location.
  • New Jersey employers with 10 or more employees must ensure they have:
    • Updated their payroll statements to ensure that they each specify: the employee’s gross and net wages; the employee’s rate of pay; and, for hourly employees, the number of hours worked during the pay period.
  • Job Protection
  • New Jersey employers must have conspicuously posted (as of April 1, 2020), two notices regarding employee misclassification.
  • Connecticut employers must provide information on the illegality of sexual harassment and remedies available to new hires within three months of their start date and send this information to each employee.
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