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New York Paid Sick Leave Requirement on Table, Unions Split

The New York City Council appears poised to pass a measure requiring all city employers, public or private, of more than 15 employees to provide at least 5 sick days to workers.Our New York City employment lawyers understand that the bill is likely to pass, despite the pledged veto of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and criticism from at least two major unions voicing concern that the new law won’t go far enough.

The measure is expected to affect some 600,000 New Yorkers. Businesses with fewer than 15 workers won’t be required to offer paid leave, but will need to give at least five days of unpaid sick leave. Regardless of whether they offer paid or unpaid leave, employers will be forbidden from firing workers who take that time off.

Examples of why this law is necessary abound. Take the case of a couple whose teen daughter contracted a blood infection and required hospitalization. The couple also had a newborn, who had to be left in the care of the father while the mother was in the hospital with their teen. The father was fired from his pizza delivery job for taking those two days off. As the family’s primary wage earner, the effect was financially devastating.

As written, the law would take effect April 1, 2014 for companies with more than 20 employees and Oct. 1, 2015 for firms with 15 or more. A provision was written into the bill that holds it will not be enacted if the city’s economic health, as measured by the Federal Reserve Bank, falls below the levels measured as of January 2012. Currently, the city has a 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

Part of the concern expressed by the mayor and others is that while the measure is well-intended, it may actually result in many low-wage workers being laid off as smaller companies struggle to shoulder the cost of the new requirements. That was essentially what happened in San Francisco when a similar measure was passed there six years ago. In the immediate aftermath, research showed, nearly 30 percent of the lowest-paid workers were either laid off or suffered a reduction of hours.

But of course the ultimate goal is to protect workers from being fired simply because they have suffered an illness and can’t make it to work. In that regard, representatives from the building services and health care unions say the new law doesn’t go far enough. Most workers, they say, will fall ill more than five days out of the year and should be shielded from the financial repercussions.

As the measure was originally written, companies with more than 20 workers would have had to offer nine paid sick days throughout the year. However, that number was later reduced to five as part of a compromise in an effort to get the measure passed.

Still, advocates say that the move could serve as as a bellwether regardless, given the size of New York’s workforce.

However, given the resistance that so many businesses have put up, we expect there will be some level of intimidation discouraging workers from actually taking those sick days. Firms should be put on notice that such action could result in swift legal action, should workers seek to pursue it.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Unions split on final paid-sick bill, April 1, 2013, By Chriss Bragg and Andrew J. Hawkins, Crain’s New York Business
Deal Reached to Force Paid Sick Leave in New York City, March 28, 2013, By Michael Barbara and Michael M. Grynbaum, The New York Times
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