Q: I heard New York State recently enacted another sick leave law. I thought New York already enacted a COVID-19 sick leave law back in March. How is this new one different?

A: Effective September 30, 2020, New York will have two separate sick leave laws: one specific to COVID-19 (NY COVID-19 Sick Leave Law), and one that is general (New York Sick Leave Law). The covered reasons for leave are more expansive under the New York Sick Leave Law. In addition, unlike the NY COVID-19 Sick Leave Law, which is expected to expire at the end of the pandemic, the New York Sick Leave Law is expected to be permanent.

While employees start accruing New York Sick Leave on September 30, 2020, they may not use the sick leave until January 1, 2021.

The amount of sick leave, and whether it is paid or unpaid, varies by employer size and net income as follows:

  • Employers with 4 or fewer employees and a net income of less than $1 million must provide at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave each calendar year.
  • Employers with 4 or fewer employees and a net income of more than $1million must provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year.
  • Employers with between 5 and 99 employees must provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year regardless of net income.
  • Employers with 100 or more employees must provide at least 56 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year regardless of income.

Net income is measured by the previous tax year, and employee count is measured by calendar year.

New York Sick Leave may be used for the following reasons:

  • For the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an employee or an employee’s family member’s mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition;
  • For preventive care for an employee or an employee’s family member; and/or
  • When an employee or an employee’s family member has been the victim of domestic violence, a family offense, sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking, and needs leave to meet with social services, meet with an attorney, file a complaint, and other enumerated reasons related to the offense.

A family member is defined as an employee’s child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, grandchild, grandparent, and the employee’s spouse or domestic partner’s child or parent.

Like the sick leave laws in many other jurisdictions, New York Sick Leave has two methods for employers to provide the leave: (1) accrual; or (2) lump sum. Under the accrual method, employees accrue sick leave at a rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked. Under the lump sum method, employers may grant the full amount of sick leave (40 or 56 hours depending on size of employer) at the beginning of each year.

Accrued, unused sick leave carries over to the next year. Although many sick leave laws provide that no carry over is required if employers use the lump sum method, the text of the New York Sick Leave law does not address this issue. The New York Department of Labor (NY DOL) is expected to release regulations and/or FAQs, which may address the carry over question.

Employers may restrict use of paid sick leave to 40 hours (for employers with fewer than 100 employees) or 56 hours (for employers with 100 or more employees) per calendar year.

If an employer has an existing sick leave policy that provides for the same or greater amount of leave and satisfies the New York Sick Leave accrual, use, and carryover requirements, the employer is not required to provide any additional leave to satisfy New York Sick Leave requirements.

Employers with New York employees now have four different potentially applicable sick leave laws: New York Sick Leave, NY COVID-19 Sick Leave, Westchester County Sick Leave, and New York City Sick Leave. The New York Sick Leave law does not address whether leave taken under it runs concurrently with NY COVID-19 Sick Leave. Because the NY COVID-19 Sick Leave law states that existing sick leave banks should not be drawn down if an employee takes sick leave for NY COVID-19 qualifying reasons, we recommend treating NY COVID-19 Sick Leave and NY Sick Leave as separate obligations. We expect that the NY DOL will clarify the interplay of the two laws in upcoming regulations and/or FAQs.

If an employer is subject to both New York Sick Leave and either Westchester County Sick Leave or New York City Sick Leave, the more generous benefit will apply. For example, an employer with 10 employees has the same key obligations under all three laws: provide 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, can restrict paid sick leave use to 40 hours per year, and must allow accrued, unused law to carry over to the next year. In contrast, an employer with 150 employees is required to provide 40 hours of paid sick leave under New York City Sick Leave and Westchester County Sick Leave, and 56 hours of paid sick leave under New York Sick Leave, so it would be required to provide 56 hours of paid sick leave to all New York employees. Please see our previous post for a detailed description of the Westchester County Sick Leave law.