New York City’s sick employees will now get paid days off thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council. On March 20, de Blasio signed the Earned Sick Time Act (ESTA) into law, which will give workers in businesses with five employees or more the opportunity to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year—and contains other requirements that apply to smaller employers, too.
The law, which kicks in on April 1, will give half a million more employees paid sick leave in New York. And although many employers will have a six-month safe period before penalties for noncompliance begin, the city’s employers will have work on their hands to make assessments and get administrative details in order, said Marc Mandelman, senior counsel at Proskauer Rose in New York, and cohead of the firm’s Employment Law Counseling and Training Group. “One of the things about this law is that it is very complicated to implement and has a lot of detailed provisions,” he said.
The ESTA allows workers at qualifying businesses to earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they work, giving them the opportunity to accumulate up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. This time can be used to get over personal health problems or to care for a sick family member. If a business employs fewer than five people, the law demands that they provide up to 40 hours of unpaid sick leave.
With some exceptions, the law defines anyone who works at least 80 hours a year in New York City, whether employed part time or full time, as an employee. The definition of a family member has also been expanded by the act to include grandchildren, grandparents and siblings of the employee in question.
Mandelman pointed out that determining what is the right amount of time off for workers and compensating them properly won’t be the only challenge under the law. Employers will need to follow the law’s direction on sick-time carryover and accrual of sick time, in addition to rules about issuing notices of rights. And the risks of noncompliance with the ESTA are substantial, as employees who think they’ve been wronged under the law have a full two years under the statute of limitations to take legal action against their employer.
So, how can businesses in New York City prepare for the new law? Mandelman said it’s important that employers in the five boroughs review existing leave policies and practices, consulting with an attorney if necessary to make the proper adjustments. He explained that complying may pose challenges for many employers that don’t have tracking systems for different classes of employee or give their employees a general block of paid time off (PTO) to be used at will for religious holidays, illness, vacation or personal days, but now need to isolate sick days. “They’re going to have to adapt their practices and systems to handle that,” he said.
With the ESTA, New York City joins a number of municipalities and states that have implemented mandatory paid-leave policies, so those outside the New York metropolitan area may want to take note, too.
“There’s definitely something of a trend here,” Mandelman said, adding that most of the cities where these laws are enacted tend to be “very protective of employee rights in general.”
Among the jurisdictions that have jumped on board the paid-sick-leave bandwagon are Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; and both Jersey City and Newark, N.J.; as well as Connecticut and Washington, D.C. Congress, Mandelman explained, has been considering supplementing the Family and Medical Leave Act—which currently only offers job-protected unpaid leave—to include paid sick leave.