New York recently amended its Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act”) and published its “Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan.” While the Model Plan specifies that there is currently no airborne infectious disease outbreak, the HERO Act requires New York employers to take steps now to comply with the statute. “Airborne infectious disease” is defined as any infectious, viral, bacterial, or fungal disease that is transmissible through the air in the form of aerosol particles or droplets and is designated by the Commissioner of Health as a highly communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health. While COVID-19 would have been so designated a year ago, it is not so designated at this time. Likewise, unless designated by the Commissioner of Health, the seasonal flu will not qualify. See the New York Department of Labor Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard here: The Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard (ny.gov). Nevertheless, employers cannot wait until an outbreak is declared to comply with the statute.
What Employers Need to Know
The Act has broad definitions of “employer,” “employee,” and “work site.” “Employer” includes any person, entity, business, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, or association employing, hiring, or paying for the labor of any individual. “Employee” means any person providing labor or services for remuneration within the state and without regard to immigration status. The definition includes independent contractors. A “work site” means any physical space, including vehicles, where work is performed and the employer has the ability to exercise control. A work site includes employer-provided housing and transportation. Thankfully, employees’ own homes and vehicles are not covered.
The Act prohibits employers from retaliating or taking adverse action against any employee who exercises rights under the statute; reports violations of the statute; reports airborne infectious disease exposure; or refuses to work where the employee reasonably believes, in good faith, that such work exposes employees to an airborne infectious disease due to working conditions inconsistent with the law. The law, however, requires the employee to first notify the employer of the problem and then give the employer an opportunity to cure it.
New York State’s amendments to its Labor Law requiring all employers to provide sick leave to employees are effective on Wednesday, September 30, 2020. Signed into law by Governor Cuomo in April as part of the State Budget (Senate Bill S7506B), our prior post detailed that the new amendments require employers to provide between 40 and 56 hours of guaranteed sick leave depending on employer size and net income. Starting Wednesday, covered employees will be entitled to accrue sick leave although the employees may be restricted from using that accrued leave until January 1, 2021.
Under New York’s Labor Law’s new requirements:
Employers with 100 or more employees must allow employees to accrue at least 56 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year;
Employers with between five and 99 employees must allow employees to accrue at least 40 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year;
Employers with fewer than five employees but having a net income greater than one million dollars in the previous tax year must allow employees to accrue at least 40 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year; and
Employers with fewer than five employees but having a net income less than one million dollars in the previous tax year must allow employees to accrue at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave each calendar year.
On August 3, 2020, at the urging of the State of New York, U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken of the Southern District of New York struck down four different provisions of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) implementing regulation for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”): (1) the “work availability” requirement, under which paid leave is only available if an employee has work from which to take leave; (2) the requirement of employer permission to take leave intermittently; (3) the definition of “health care provider” for purposes of exclusion from paid leave benefits; and (4) the requirement for an employee to provide certain documentation before taking leave. New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 2020 WL 4462260 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2020).
Although the judge did not issue a “nationwide” injunction, the mere fact that there was a decision by a federal judge striking certain important provisions of the FFCRA regulation left employers (or maybe just their counsel) in a panic about the implications outside of New York. Would this decision impact eligible employees in California? Would the decision be retroactive? Would the DOL appeal? Would it seek a stay of the decision while the appeal was pending? Continue reading “Strident DOL Revises FFCRA Reg, Thumbs Its Nose at NY Federal Court Decision”
On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed Senate Bill 8091 (the “NY Act”) providing coronavirus COVID-19 relief for affected employees. Blank Rome’s Coronavirus Task Force covered the immediate enactment on our Blank Rome Workplace Blog. The NY Act provides sick leave and benefits that are in excess of those provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), which President Donald Trump signed into law on the same day. Blank Rome’s Coronavirus Task Force detailed the FFCRA when it was enacted; and provided updated guidance on March 25, 2020.
Employers in New York are required to comply with both the NY Act and the FFCRA and must determine whether any benefits in excess of those provided by FFCRA are required. This update summarizes several of the key differences between the New York and federal benefits.
What Employers Are Covered?
NY ACT: All employers are subject to the NY Act; however, benefits vary based on the size and net income of the employer.
On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill providing paid sick leave and job protections for employees in New York who are unable to work due to coronavirus COVID-19. The new law prohibits employers from terminating or penalizing employees who are absent from work while the government is recommending or mandating that people stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The specifics of the leave available to employees will vary depending on the size and net income of the employer, although regardless of employer size, all employees subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 will be entitled to job protection during their absences.
Businesses with at least 100 employees must provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave during any mandatory or precautionary order of COVID-19 quarantine or isolation.
Businesses with between 11 and 99 employees (or with 10 or fewer employees but more than one million dollars in net income) must provide five days of paid sick leave. Once that is exhausted, those employers must provide their workers with access to short-term disability benefits and paid family leave for the period of quarantine/isolation.
Finally, employers with 10 or fewer employees and less than one million dollars in net income are not obligated to provide paid leave but must give their workers access to short-term disability benefits and paid family leave for the period of quarantine/isolation.
The law will undoubtedly be challenged by an employer claiming that providing such coverage violates the employer’s religious beliefs (think Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission). The ultimate fate of this statute will be resolved under federal First Amendment law.
That challenge has begun. On January 31, 2020, a lawsuit was filed in federal district court seeking a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional and void, and for an injunction to bar enforcing it against the plaintiffs. Christopher T. Slattery, et al. v. Andrew M. Cuomo, et al., U.S.D.C., N.D.N.Y., Case No. 5:00-at-99999.
New Jersey and New York are the latest states to prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their pay history and considering pay information in making employment decisions.
In New Jersey, effective January 1, 2020, private employers cannot screen applicants based on their pay history. Employers also cannot require an applicant’s salary history satisfy a certain minimum or maximum criteria. Employers may not consider an applicant’s refusal to provide compensation information in making an employment decision.
On November 9, Governor Cuomo signed into law an amendment to the New York Labor Law making it illegal to discriminate against employees based upon the reproductive health decisions of employees or their dependents. The law went into effect immediately upon signing.
Specifically, the new law (N.Y. Labor Law § 203-e):
Prohibits an employer from accessing an employee’s personal information regarding reproductive health decision-making without the “employee’s prior informed affirmative written consent.”
Prohibits an employer from taking “retaliatory personnel action” against an employee with respect to compensation and terms of employment, because of the employee’s (or dependent’s) decision-making, including decisions regarding use of a drug, device, or medical service.
Prohibits requiring an employee to waive the right to make particular reproductive healthcare decisions.
Requires employee handbooks to include notice of employee rights and remedies under the new law.
Prohibits retaliation against an employee for protesting the violation of rights under the new law, filing an action under or related to the new law, or providing information to a public body.
The new law creates a legal right of action that an employee can pursue in any court of competent jurisdiction for damages, injunctive relief, reinstatement, attorneys’ fees, and liquidated damages equal to the damages awarded, with liquidated damages subject to a defense if the employer proves “a good faith basis to believe that its actions… were in compliance with the law.”
All New York employers must immediately revise employee handbooks to give notice of the law and available enforcement remedies.
The Legislative Supporting Memorandum makes explicit the legislature’s intention to protect employees against employer efforts to deny them the benefit of the provision in the federal Affordable Care Act which requires that health insurance plans cover FDA-approved birth control methods, without out-of-pocket costs. The law will undoubtedly be challenged by an employer claiming that providing such coverage violates the employer’s religious beliefs (think Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission). The ultimate fate of this statute will be resolved under federal First Amendment law.
A new amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law expressly prohibits workplace discrimination based on religious attire, clothing, and facial hair. New York employers should review their current policies and work with counsel to ensure compliance by the October 8, 2019, effective date.
Governor Cuomo recently signed legislation (S.4037/A.4204) that amends the New York State Human Rights Law to expand religious protections for employees and applicants in the workplace. The New York State Human Rights Law already prohibits employers from imposing upon employees and applicants “a condition of obtaining or retaining employment” that would require them “to violate or forego a sincerely held practice of [their] religion.” N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(10)(a). The new law ensures that those same protections now encompass an employee’s or applicant’s religious attire, clothing, and facial hair. Continue reading “New York Expands Workplace Protections for Religious Attire, Clothing, and Facial Hair”
New York State has this week enacted sweeping election reforms that go into effect immediately. The changes will impact private employers across the state. Section 3-110 of the New York Election Law now permits all registered voters to request and obtain up to three hours of paid time off, regardless of their schedule, to vote in any public election. Employers will be permitted to designate whether the time off will be taken at the beginning or end of an employee’s shift.
To qualify, employees must be registered to vote and must provide at least two days’ advance notice to their employer of the need for time off to vote. The law is silent on whether the employer can count voting time against other paid time off programs it provides. We anticipate that regulations will be issued relating to this and other elements of the law and we will report on them as they are published.
Employers also must comply with a voting rights posting requirement. Employers are required to post a notice that explains the employees’ right to paid time off for voting. You can see a version of the approved poster on the New York State Board of Elections website here.
The notice must be posted in a conspicuous location in the workplace where it can be seen as employees come or go to their place of work, at least 10 days before a public election, and must remain up until the polls close on election day.
Employers should take note that these rules apply to all public elections; the next such statewide election will be the New York primaries on June 25, 2019.