By: Jordan Silber
As flu season rolls around each year, over 40 million American workers throughout the country are reminded of the fact that there are no laws, which protect them by requiring their employers to provide paid sick leave. However, over this past summer, it will now be much easier for New Yorkers to take a sick day from work as New York City joined several other jurisdictions in enacting legislation, which will require certain businesses to revamp their policies regarding time given to employees for sick leave. Despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to veto the legislation because of the potential negative effects it may have on small businesses, the New York City Council overruled the mayor’s veto and passed the Earned Sick Time Act, and adopted it into law in June 2013.
The Act was enacted to combat a significant problem facing many New York City workers, who would have to take off work and thus lose their compensation for that days work, or worse, risk getting fired, in order to care for themselves or a loved one. Many employees simply cannot afford to take these risks, so instead they remain at work and stick it out. This decision has several negative impacts. According to a 2009 study, workers who do not take care of their illness at its onset, often take more time off as the conditions worsen. Additionally, workers are potentially putting themselves at risk of getting injured on the job or exposing their illness to their co-workers, which will increase absences and low productivity. Recognizing this issue, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, has advocated that “[p]eople who are sick or who need to care for a loved one should be able to take time off without the fear of losing their job or not having money to pay the bills.”
Under the new legislation, an estimated one million New York City private-sector employees, whom do not currently have access to paid sick time when they or their family members are ill, will be provided with paid (and in some cases unpaid) days off. The Act, which will be implemented on scheduled intervals, is expected to go into effect April 1, 2014, depending on the financial stability of the city’s economy.
The first phase of the program, beginning in April 2014 will require employers with 20 or more employees to provide workers with five paid sick days a year, while smaller businesses will receive job protection for up to 40 hours (5 days) of unpaid sick time per year. The next phase of the program will go into effect in October 2015 and will reduce the threshold to 15 employees, while workers of smaller businesses will still be provided unpaid sick time. Employees will earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employee coverage under the Act is broad. The Act generally applies to any person employed for hire within New York City for more than 80 hours in a calendar year who performs work on a full-time or part-time basis. Almost all non-governmental employees who work in New York City are covered under the Act, however there are some exemptions, including independent contractors, and work study students.
In order to permissibly utilize their sick leave benefits, the Act maintains that employees are entitled to take sick leave for their “mental or physical illness, injury or health condition. Additionally, employees are entitled to take time off if they or their eligible family members: (1) need a medical diagnosis; (2) require care or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; or (3) need preventative medical care. The Act defines a “family member” as an employee’s spouse or registered domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law or parent of a domestic partner, and child or child of a domestic partner, including a biological, adopted or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of an employee standing in loco parentis.
Due to its large population, New York City’s enactment of the Act has advocates of the benefit program increasingly optimistic that more cities will follow suit and implement similar programs with the hope that such laws will be the norm throughout the country in the near future. This movement is gaining even more notoriety as Jersey City, the second largest city in New Jersey, passed a similar legislation in late September. Therefore, it would be wise for employers in anticipation of these laws taking effect in major city’s, to review the new legislation and revise their current leave polices to provide paid or unpaid time off that is just as or more generous than legislation currently being implemented.
 Working While Sick, N.Y. Times (August 4, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/opinion/sunday/working-while-sick.html?_r=2
 Tina Moore & Erin Durkin, City Council Overrides Mayor Bloomberg’s Veto of paid sick-leave Bill in Early Morning Session, N.Y. Daily News (June 27, 2013), http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-overrides-bloomberg-veto-paid-sick-leave-bill-article-1.1383764
 N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 20-911
 Jennifer Peltz, New York City Passes Paid Sick Time Law, Huffington Post (June, 27, 2013, 3:59 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/nyc-paid-sick-time_n_3507814.html
 Jena McGregor, New York Diners Relax. Paid Sick Leave is Now the Law, Wash. Post (June 27, 2013), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2013/06/27/new-york-passes-paid-sick-leave-law-but-u-s-still-far-behind/
 Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, New York City Council Approves Paid Sick Time Act, Bloomberg Vows Veto, CNN (May 9, 2013), http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/08/us/new-york-worker-sick-time/
 N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 20-911
 New York City Statute Grants Employees New Sick Leave Rights, Business Management Daily (October 21, 2013, 2:00 PM), http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/36322/new-york-city-statute-grants-employees-new-sick-leave-rights# (noting that the implementation date of the act can be postponed if the economy underperforms)
 Jonathan S. Hershberg & Laura Sack, Mandatory Paid Sick Leave Arrives in New York City (September 10, 2013), http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=40ead30a-2ebd-47c7-b191-a0987d7a0788
 Chris Bragg, The Paid Sick Leave Amendment, in Full, Crain’s Insider Blog (March 1, 2013), http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20130301/BLOGS04/130309991
 N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 20-911
 Jersey City Council Passes Bill to Require Paid Sick Leave, ABC Local (September 26, 2013), http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local/new_jersey&id=9262380