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VIEWPOINT: New York Publishes Final Paid Sick-Leave Regulations

By Theresa E. Rusnak

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On Dec. 22, 2021, New York State published its final paid sick-leave regulations. These regulations are identical to the proposed regulations, initially published on Dec. 9, 2020. New York Paid Sick Leave (PSL) requires employers to provide paid leave to employees relating to an employee’s or an employee’s family member’s medical needs, or for reasons relating to domestic violence and similar offenses. Since Jan. 1, 2021, employers have been required to provide this leave to all New York employees. 

As you may recall, the proposed regulations generated a number of questions, and the hope was that the New York Department of Labor (NYSDOL) would address some of these questions by amending the proposed regulations. This did not occur. However, in conjunction with adopting the final rule, NYSDOL published 27 comments and responses addressing various parts of the regulations. Some of the department’s responses to these comments, submitted by members of the public, are illuminating, while others further complicate longstanding issues. 

In its response to public comments, the NYSDOL clarified that employers are to count their highest total number of concurrently employed workers nationwide when determining which category of leave applies to the employer. As a reminder, employers with fewer than 10 employees (and under $1 million net income) must provide at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave per year; employers between 10 and 100 workers (as well as those employers with under 10 employees and over $1 million net income) are required to provide at least 40 hours of PSL per year; and employers with 100-plus employees must provide at least 56 hours of PSL per year. 

One of the vaguest parts of PSL was whether employers who frontload the full amount of PSL for a year’s time period still must allow employees to carry over unused leave from year to year. In response to a comment setting forth this question, the NYSDOL responded that there was no limit on the number of hours to be carried over, and that to impose such a cap would exceed the department’s authority. However, the department did clarify that employers may give workers the option to be paid out for unused leave at year’s end, rather than carry over the unused leave. This response will likely be frustrating for employers, as it continues the longstanding problem of employers being forced to allow employees to carry over leave that, in many cases, cannot be used during the year in which it is carried over due to the employer’s ability to place a cap (40 or 56 hours) on the amount of leave an employee can use yearly. 

For employers who do not frontload, but use an accrual system, the law provides that employees must receive at least one hour of PSL for every 30 hours worked. When they were initially published, the proposed regulations raised the issue of “rounding” paid sick-leave accrual increments for the first time, instructing employers that when calculating accruals for time worked in increments less than 30 hours, “employers may round accrued leave to the nearest five minutes, or to the nearest one-tenth or quarter of an hour, provided that it will not result, over a period of time, in a failure to provide the proper accrual of leave to employees for all the time they have actually worked.” This language raised many questions, not the least of which was how often employers should reconcile PSL banks to determine the amount of leave available to employees. Unfortunately, the NYSDOL did little in the way of aiding employers, instead merely affirming that incremental leave is required and employers could round the time if they desire. 

Another important issue addressed by the department in its responses was the clarification that employers could not mandate that employees use PSL for a covered reason to the exclusion of other available leave. This means that an employer who has employees leave work for a PSL-covered reason cannot force the workers to use their PSL if the employees instead elect to use paid time off, vacation, or other applicable time. Whether employees use PSL, then, appears to be at the employees’ discretion, at least when the employees have other paid leave available that could be used for the absence. The NYSDOL does not address if an employer can mandate the use of PSL when employees are absent for a qualifying reason, but have no other applicable paid time off available. 

Finally, the department declined to allow employers to establish a notice requirement for leave, even when need for leave is foreseeable. Regarding documentation, the NYSDOL clarifies that employers may only require documentation when an employee is absent for three or more consecutive shifts, and that such documentation must not contain the disclosure of confidential information. One method of documentation permitted by the final regulations is an attestation from employees that their reason for leave qualifies under PSL, and the department notes that it will publish an attestation template for use. An employer may not deny an employee leave while attempting to confirm the basis for the leave. If, however, the employer discovers the request to be false or fraudulent, disciplinary action may be taken against the employee. 

The NYSDOL declined to issue commentary on the impacts of collective-bargaining agreements, rate of pay, or interactions with federal leave mandates. Questions about these issues, and others, remain.      

Theresa E. Rusnak is an associate attorney in the Rochester office of Syracuse–based Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC. This viewpoint article is drawn and edited from the firm’s New York Labor and Employment Law Report blog. Contact Rusnak at trusnak@bsk.com

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