HR Alert: COVID-19 Sick Leave Still in Effect in New York

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While we’re no longer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there still are laws in effect that were enacted during the pandemic. One is COVID-19 sick leave, which was passed in the pandemic’s very first days. Enacted in March 2020, the law provides job-protected leave to workers who are subject to mandatory or precautionary orders of quarantine or isolation for COVID-19. The law also provides paid leave to employees who meet certain criteria.

What does this mean for you as an employer? It means that you might be responsible for paying employees who are entitled to this sick leave. With that in mind, let’s dive into the requirements of New York’s COVID-19 sick leave law.

Are employers STILL required to pay for COVID-related time off?

The short answer is yes, in many circumstances.

10 or fewer employees.  If an employer has ten or fewer employees and a net annual income of less than $1 million in the previous tax year, it’s not required to provide paid COVID-19 leave to employees. Instead, the employee gets unpaid sick leave for the time period of their mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation. While the employee can seek other forms of paid time off, the employer isn’t required to pay for COVID-specific leave.

On the other hand, if the employer has 10 or fewer employees and a net income of more than $1 million in the previous tax year, the employer must provide at least five days of paid COVID leave and then allow unpaid leave until the mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation is terminated.

11 to 99 employees. If you have 11-99 employees, you must give them at least five days of paid COVID leave if they’re under a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation.

100 or more employees. If you have 100 or more employees, you must give them at least 14 days of paid COVID leave.

Public employers. Regardless of employee count, public employers must provide employees with at least 14 days of paid COVID leave during a period of quarantine or isolation.

What does job protection mean?

Job protection means exactly what it says. The employee’s job is protected, that is, when they take time off, their employer can’t penalize them by replacing them with another employee. Stated differently, no matter what type or size the business is, an employee who needs time off becauase of COVID can’t be fired because of the time off.

What’s the current Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidelines regarding isolation and quarantine?

The CDC recently released new guidelines regarding isolation and quarantine when dealing with COVID which is now called Respiratory Virus Guidance, as the CDC has concluded that COVID-19 no longer is the emergency that it once was. Instead, its symptoms and impacts greatly resemble other respiratory viral illnesses, such as influenza.

Consequently, there’s no longer a specific time frame during which a person must be in isolation or quarantine if they’re experiencing symptoms. Now, the CDC recommends that the affected person stay home until their symptoms are getting better, and they’re fever-free without the use of any medications for at least 24 hours. Once this occurs, the CDC recommends taking standard precautions, such as wearing a mask, when in public for an additional five days.

How does CDC guidance affect New York’s COVID leave law?

Since the new Respiratory Virus Guidance was released in March, the New York Department of Health has not issued any updates to its own COVID-19 isolation guidance. When adopting previous CDC guidance in 2022, however, the Department of Health stated that “as formal CDC guidelines become available, NYSDOH will evaluate and update State guidance accordingly.” Based on this, new guidance may – or may not – be in the near future for New York employers and employees.

For now, based on the new CDC guidance and existing New York law, the duration of COVID leave an employee will be entitled to appears to depend on whether they’re experiencing symptoms (such as a fever) and how long the symptoms last. If an employee isn’t experiencing any symptoms, the new guidance doesn’t require isolation.

Is COVID-19 sick leave ever going to end?

In the 2025 Executive Budget, Governor Hochul proposed to sunset the COVID-19 sick leave law on July 31, 2024. The 2025 Executive Budget Briefing Book provided that:

Legislation submitted with the Budget sunsets the law which required employers to provide sick leave and other benefits for employment subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 law because its applicability to new employers is unclear and quarantine requirements have changed.

It’s important to note that the budget hasn’t yet been passed as of the date of publication of this blog. It was due by April 1, 2024 but remains on extension at this time. For now, then, COVID-19 sick leave is still the law in New York State. We’ll be sure to update you when or if that changes.

If you have questions about COVID leave or other benefits to which your employees are entitled, give us a call at 716.839.9700. We’re happy to help.

Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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