New York recently passed a new leave law mandating unpaid leave for emergency responders. The law took effect December 22, 2014. Under the law, employers must provide unpaid leave to employees who serve as volunteer firefighters or volunteer ambulance personnel when the governor declares a state of emergency, unless the employee’s absence would impose and undue hardship on the employer’s business, as defined by the New York State Human Rights Law.

The new law, which was made part of Section 202 of the New York Labor Law, provides that employers must grant unpaid leave only if the employee previously provided written documentation from the head of the employee’s volunteer fire department or volunteer ambulance service notifying the employer of the employee’s status as an emergency responder. Further, the employee’s duties as an emergency responder must be related to the declared emergency. An employer may require documentation supporting the leave request as well.

Finally, although the law provides for the use of unpaid leave, employees may elect to substitute other accrued, paid leave, such as vacation time, for the unpaid leave.