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Coronavirus and Paid Sick Leave

In the past few days, the federal and New York state legislatures have altered rules regarding employee sick leave and family leave. While both business owners and workers are attempting to navigate various challenges posed by the global pandemic, it is critical to appreciate the basics of these changes. The following will review changes to federal, New York, and New Jersey laws in regards to paid leave and COVID-19.

Trump Signs Federal Act

In March 2020, President Trump signed the First Coronavirus Response Act which provides for both emergency leave and sick leave for all small business workers. Under this regulation, all employers with fewer than 500 employers must provide:

  • Emergency family medical leave time for any worker who has worked for the employer for at least 30 days. This includes up to 12 weeks of emergency family medical leave. While the first 10 days are unpaid, workers must be compensated at a rate of at least two-thirds of their usual pay for the remaining time. Workers are permitted to supplement these first 10 days with paid time off, but employers cannot require them to do so. Employers, however, are not required to pay workers at a wage that is greater than $200 a day or $10,000 in total. Workers are also only permitted to use this time if they are not able to work and must care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed. This time can also be used if the child’s caregiver is unavailable as a result of a public health emergency.
  • Emergency paid sick leave for all workers regardless of when they began working for the employer. Workers must receive the equivalent of two weeks paid or 80 hours for full-time workers. For part-time workers, the employee must receive a prorated amount that is equivalent to the average time that the person worked in a two-week period. Workers, however, are excluded from using this time if they are required to isolate or quarantine by a federal, state, or local official or medical professionals, are experiencing Coronavirus symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis, are caring for a person who is quarantined or experiencing coronavirus symptoms, are caring for a child whose school or care center has been closed, or the child’s caregiver is unavailable as a result of the coronavirus. Workers have a right to receive full pay if they use this time to care for themselves and are owed at least two-thirds compensation if they use this time to care for a family member. Employers, however, are not obligated to pay these wages if they are greater than $511 a day, based on the reason why the worker takes leave.

While many employers are required to follow this regulation, employers with fewer than 50 workers might be found exempt from compliance provided they apply for a waiver and establish that compliance would “jeopardize” the business’s “viability.”

New York Laws

New York has passed state laws addressing the issue of the Coronavirus and paid family leave as well as sick leave as handled in the state. This new law provides:

  • Immediate paid sick leave for New Yorkers impacted by the coronavirus. For employers with 10 or fewer workers and less than $1 million in revenue, workers must be given access to paid family leave as well as short term disability benefits. If an employer has 10 or fewer workers and more than $1 million in revenue, workers are eligible for five days of paid sick leave as well as temporary disability benefits and paid family leave. For employers with 11 to 99 employees, workers are eligible for five days of paid leave and can then qualify for either paid family leave or temporary disability benefits. For employers with 100 or more workers, employees are eligible for 14 days of paid sick leave. Leave of this kind can be used by workers who are subject to mandatory or precautionary isolation or quarantine orders by government officials. Asymptomatic workers who have not yet been diagnosed with coronavirus are not eligible.
  • State paid sick leave later in 2020. For employers with five to 99 workers, workers are eligible for at least 40 hours of paid sick leave. For employers with 100 or more workers, employees are eligible for at least 56 hours of paid sick leave. If an employer has fewer than four workers and a net income of less than $1 million, the employer must offer at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave.

Besides these requirements, Governor Cuomo will also issue an order that requires at least 75% of workers of businesses located in the state to stay out of their offices. An exemption exists, however, for essential services. Some examples of essential services in New York include research and laboratory services, hospitals, walk-in care facilities, emergency veterinary services, elder care, medical distribution, home health care workers, public water and wastewater, airports, hotels, agriculture, farms, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

New Jersey Emergency Relief Law

New Jersey guarantees sick leave to workers, including during times of public health emergencies. As a result, New Jersey workers are often able to use accrued sick leave if their workplace, child’s school, or child’s care center are closed as the result of an epidemic like the coronavirus. All businesses with workers in the state must provide paid sick leave to their workers. Sick leave in New Jersey is accrued at a rate of one hour of leave for every 30 hours workers. Currently, various bills are pending to expand how New Jersey treats sick leave and family medical leaves.

Speak with an Experienced Workers’ Rights Attorney

If you have questions about your rights as an employee during the coronavirus pandemic, it can help to speak with a knowledgeable attorney. Contact the employment law attorneys at the Law Cohen & Jaffe, LLP today to schedule a free case evaluation.

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