NY Adopts Paid Sick Time Plan For Workers Hurt By COVID-19

By Vin Gurrieri
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Law360 (March 18, 2020, 8:30 PM EDT) -- New York lawmakers on Wednesday swiftly enacted a plan to safeguard workers' jobs and guarantee them some measure of paid sick time if they can't go to work because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a modified version of a plan he announced on Tuesday that provides paid sick leave and job protections for workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Under the bill, companies cannot fire or otherwise penalize New Yorkers because they fail to show up to work while the government is recommending or mandating that people stay inside to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The plan passed by state lawmakers on Wednesday, which applies only to workers affected by the virus, is more narrow than the version Cuomo unveiled on Tuesday, which included a statewide paid sick leave program that would have remained in effect beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuomo said Wednesday that state lawmakers will revisit a broader paid sick leave policy at a later time, and that Wednesday's legislation is intended "to provide immediate relief to working New Yorkers whose lives are being turned upside down by COVID-19."

"No one should have to make the impossible choice between losing their job or providing for their family and going to work, especially during this pandemic," Cuomo said. "We seek to build upon this effort with guaranteed sick leave for all in this year's budget. In New York we stand with our workers in sickness and in health."

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement that "working families are the backbone of New York's economy, and by providing each New Yorker with guaranteed paid sick leave, we're no longer forcing people to choose between their health and paying for food, rent or utilities."

"This is especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 public health emergency we're facing, as employers require or advise their workers to self-quarantine," she said.

The details of the emergency sick leave vary depending on the size of the employer. Those with at least 100 employees must fund at least 14 days of paid sick leave "during any mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation" put in place by public health officials to stem the spread of COVID-19. 

Businesses with between 11 and 99 employees must fund five days of paid sick leave and, after that, give workers access to short-term disability benefits and paid family leave.  Companies with 10 or fewer employees and less than $1 million in revenue must give their workers access to paid family leave and short-term disability benefits, though they have no obligation to pay for sick leave themselves, according to the legislation. 

If a business closes because of COVID-19, the individual can immediately file for unemployment insurance benefits under the legislation, which was dubbed S. 8091.

"Effective immediately, emergency paid sick leave will provide New Yorkers who are sick or subject to quarantine/isolation and can't work due to the #coronavirus with the relief they deserve. I'm grateful for my colleagues in Albany who got this done," New York State Attorney General Letitia James tweeted shortly after the bill's passage.

Dina Bakst and Sherry Leiwant, co-presidents of the nonprofit advocacy organization A Better Balance, which focuses on getting paid leave laws passed, praised New York's passage of the coronavirus paid sick leave program. 

"A Better Balance applauds Gov. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for swiftly reaching an agreement on a bill that will ensure millions of working families in New York are provided job protection and economic security amidst the COVID-19 public health crisis," they said in a joint statement. "In this time of crisis, the new law will help New Yorkers to follow New York State's and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]'s recommendations to protect their own health and the health of their loved ones, while also protecting the health of the public as a whole. "

Besides New York, numerous states are considering proposals aimed at blunting the impact of coronavirus on workplaces. Those states include California, New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Hawaii, Minnesota and Washington, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

--Additional reporting by Emily Brill. Editing by Alanna Weissman.

--Update: This story has been updated to reflect the governor's approval of the bill.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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