With the year coming to a close, employers in New York State need to be ready for new employment laws that are now in effect or soon will be. The best way to ensure your company’s policies and procedures are up to date is to consult with an experienced employment lawyer.
New Employment Laws for New York Employers
The state expanded employment protections in three key areas: paid vaccination leave requirements, whistleblower protections, and paid family leave requirements.
Paid Vaccination Leave Effective Now
In October 2021, the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) updated its Vaccination Guidance regarding paid leave for Covid-19 vaccinations. That guidance required employers to provide employees up to 4 hours of paid leave for each vaccine injection of the initial series. Under the updated guidance, employers must also provide up to 4 hours of paid leave to employees who decide to get a Covid-19 booster. This paid leave requirement applies to all private employers in New York City that are covered by the city’s vaccine mandate that recently went into effect.
Expanded Whistleblower Protection
As we reported in a recent blog, Governor Hochul signed legislation amending Section 740 of the New York Labor Law (NYLL) that prohibits whistleblower retaliation. The amendments, which go into effect January 26, 2022, dramatically expand the definition of both protected activity and covered employees.
Previously, the law prohibited retaliation against employees who reported an actual violation of the law only when the violation (1) posed a threat to public health or safety or (2) concerned healthcare fraud. Under the amended whistleblower protection law, an employee need only report what he or she “reasonably believes” to be a violation of the law. Moreover, the alleged violation does not need to pose a danger to public health or safety.
The effect of this change is that employees are now permitted to report alleged violations of applicable anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws and receive whistleblower protection under the NYLL. It is worth noting that employees in New York are also protected against retaliation under existing provisions of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL).
The amended NYLL also expands the definition of employee. In addition to current employees, the new law covers former employees and current and former independent contractors. Most importantly, plaintiffs are now entitled to a jury trial to seek a wide range of remedies, including:
- Front pay
- Injunctive relief
- Compensation for lost wages and benefits
- A civil penalty of $10,000
- Attorneys’ fees
- Punitive damages
Given the changes to the NYLL, employers need to prepare in advance by reviewing anti-retaliation policies and properly training supervisors about handling employee complaints.
Expanded Paid Family Leave
On November 1, 2021, Governor Hochul signed legislation amending the New York Paid Family Leave Law to allow for leave to care for “siblings.” Under this law, eligible employees must be provided with paid leave (limited in duration and scope) to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Previously, “family members” included an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent.” Effective January 1, 2023, the definition of a “family member” will be expanded to include an employee’s sibling, including biological, adopted, step, and half-sibling(s).
Employers in New York must abide by numerous federal, state, and local laws governing the employment relationship. Because employment laws are always subject to change, and in light of the potential for employment litigation, it is wise to consult with an experienced employment lawyer. In doing so, you can protect your business and ensure that your employees enjoy a safe, productive, and positive working environment.