You can’t stand up to protect your rights if you don’t know what rights you have. Unfortunately, some businesses understand this fact and quietly take advantage of it. To protect yourself, you want to educate yourself, and part of that education is learning how recent changes to the law might affect you.
Thanks to many factors, including the global health crisis, New York recently passed a host of laws aimed at protecting workers. Some of these have become more important now as federal COVID protections expire.
Paid sick leave
Workers throughout New York State now benefit from a mandatory paid sick leave. This law went into effect on January 1, 2021 and applies to all full-time, part-time and per diem employees. It guarantees at least 40 hours of sick leave for all employees. It also guarantees paid sick leave for all employees of companies with a net income of more than $1 million or five or more employees.
The law also clarifies that employees may use their sick leave to:
- Receive preventative care, diagnosis or treatment for their physical or mental illnesses or injuries
- Assist with a covered family member’s preventative care, diagnosis or treatment
- Recover from domestic violence, stalking or sexual offenses
- Help a covered family member recover from domestic violence, stalking or sexual offenses
Covered family members include such relatives as spouses, domestic partners, children, stepchildren, parents, grandparents and siblings.
Ongoing COVID coverage
The governor recently reminded employers that workers who need to recover from side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are covered under the state’s Paid Sick Leave law. As part of the effort to encourage vaccination, the governor also ensured each worker could receive four hours of recovery per injection. These extra hours do not count against any other paid leave that employees have earned.
Meanwhile, the federal law that required employers to provide up to 80 hours of emergency sick leave has expired, but the New York State COVID Sick Leave Law has not expired. It remains in full force and offers certain protections to workers who need to quarantine and cannot work remotely:
- Up to 14 days of unpaid leave for those who work at businesses with 10 or fewer employees
- 5 days of paid leave, plus unpaid leave for the remainder of quarantine, for those who work at businesses with 10 or fewer employees and an annual net income greater than $1 million
- 5 days of paid leave, plus unpaid leave for the remainder of quarantine, for those who work at businesses with 11 to 99 employees
- 14 days of paid leave for public employees and private sector employees at businesses with 100 or more employees
Employees who are eligible for paid leave, but only five days, may apply for additional support through their employer’s New York Paid Family Leave or disability insurer.
Minimum wage increases
Outside of New York City, the statewide minimum wage rose at the beginning of 2021 to $12.50 per hour.
Additionally, employers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester County owe their employees a slightly higher minimum wage. The minimum wage in these counties is now $14.00 per hour.
There is an exception to this increase for fast food workers, who are instead entitled to $14.50 per hour. Their minimum wage rises again on July 1, 2021 to $15.00 per hour.
Additional protections for fast food employees
After so much time being labeled “essential” and being treated as anything but essential, New York City’s fast food workers received some well-deserved protections. These go into effect July 4 and include:
- The assurance that fast food workers cannot be fired without good reason. Employers must show just cause.
- A new law dictates that layoffs must target newer hires before targeting more senior hires. Employers cannot use layoffs as an excuse to target experienced employees that they just don’t like.
These laws apply to New York City, but it’s possible that legislators will look at extending them in the future. New York City has long served as a testing ground for laws later applied to the state.
Employers and employees should both know the rules
The laws are organic. Lawmakers constantly pass new laws and adjust old ones to keep up with the changing times. Your employer has a legal duty to understand how the changes may affect your job. As a worker, you want to understand the changes to better protect your rights.
Even so, it’s often difficult for workers to protect their rights on their own. The balance of power doesn’t always work in your favor. Accordingly, if you find that your employer has broken the rules, you may wish to consult with an experienced attorney before you leave your job or file a complaint. Your attorney may help you discover more than one possible solution to your dilemma, so it is generally a good idea to form a strategy before you first act.