The New York City Council recently passed amendments expanding the already expansive New York City Earned Sick Time Act (the "Sick Time Act"). The amendments are expected to be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio imminently (the Mayor has vowed to make these amendments the first piece of legislation that he signs into law). The Sick Time Act, as amended, will become effective on April 1, 2014. (This is not an April Fools' Day prank!)

The Sick Time Act was already scheduled to require most New York City employers (those with fifteen or more employees) to provide their employees with paid sick time (or unpaid sick time in the case of smaller employers). The recent amendments will make the paid sick time provisions applicable to New York City employers with as few as five employees (or with one or more domestic workers). This Client Alert summarizes the most important changes to the Sick Time Act. For a summary of the provisions of the Sick Time Act enacted last year, please see our prior client alert.

Amendments to the New York City Earned Sick Time Act

When Does the Sick Time Act Become Effective? The recent amendments will eliminate a phase-in period pursuant to which smaller employers and employers of domestic workers would not have been required to provide paid sick time until October 1, 2015. As a result, as of April 1, 2014, all New York City employers (other than government employers) will be required to comply with the Sick Time Act. There is also a delayed effective date for employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement on April 1, 2014.

Who Must Provide Paid Sick Time? As a result of the amendments, employers with five or more employees in New York City (or one or more domestic workers) will be required to provide paid sick time (of up to 40 hours per year) to those employees. The recent amendments will also eliminate the exemption from the paid sick time requirement that was included for certain types of manufacturers. Any New York City employer not covered by the paid sick time requirement (other than government employers) must still provide their employees with unpaid sick time.

For What Family Members Can Sick Time Be Used? Besides using sick time to care for themselves, employees can use sick time under the Sick Time Act to care for a family member. Under the original law, the definition of "family member" includes an employee's spouse, child, domestic partner, parent, or the child or parent of an employee's spouse or domestic partner. The recent amendments will add grandchildren, grandparents, and siblings (including half-siblings, step-siblings, and adoptive siblings) to the definition of "family member."

What Records Must Be Kept? The recent amendments will require that employers maintain written records documenting their compliance with the Sick Time Act for three years (up from two years).

What Is the Statute of Limitations? The recent amendments will increase the statute of limitations for violations of the Sick Time Act from 270 days to two years from the date that the employee knew or should have known of the alleged violation.

What Is the Deadline for Responding to Complaints? The recent amendments will add a requirement that, upon receiving written notice from New York City of a complaint alleging a violation of the Sick Time Act, the employer will have thirty days to respond to the notice.

Is There Any Grace Period? April 1, 2014 is fast approaching. The recent amendments will provide that, for employers with fewer than twenty employees and for certain manufacturers, civil penalties for a violation of the Sick Time Act will be waived until October 1, 2014, although other remedies, including equitable relief, could still be imposed. For employers who are covered by this grace period, a first time violation of the Sick Time Act that occurs during this grace period will not serve as a factor in determining penalties for subsequent violations that occur on or after October 1, 2014. However, any additional violation by such an employer during this grace period can serve as a factor in determining penalties for violations that occur on or after October 1, 2014. Given these limitations, the grace period will not be as helpful as it could have been. And, grace period notwithstanding, it will be in the best interests of all New York City employers to be in compliance with the Sick Time Act as of April 1, 2014.

What Are the Notice Requirements? Another set of recent amendments to the Sick Time Act, which are not waiting for the Mayor's signature and are already a part of the Sick Time Act, require that employers provide their employees with a written notice of rights under the Sick Time Act at the commencement of employment or by May 1, 2014, whichever is later. This new notice requirement means that New York City employers will need to provide such written notice to all current employees by May 1, 2014. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (the "DCA") will create a model notice that employers can use. The notice must be provided both in English and the employee's primary language (provided that the DCA has made a translation available in such language). It is expected that the DCA will publish model notices before April 1, 2014. In addition to distributing the notice to all current employees by May 1, 2014, beginning April 1, 2014, employers should add the Sick Time Act notice to their standard paperwork packet that is provided to new hires.

Next Steps

All New York City employers should review their sick time policies now, in advance of the April 1, 2014 effective date, and make any necessary updates or changes to comply with the Sick Time Act. Those New York City employers without a sick time policy should give serious consideration to adopting one in advance of April 1, 2014. Those employers who also operate in other jurisdictions will need to decide whether to extend New York City's protections to the remainder of their workforce. Finally, those employers who also operate in other jurisdictions that have their own "sick leave law" (such as Washington, D.C.) will need to develop separate policies or coordinate a single policy that complies with multiple laws.