The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has updated COVID-19 paid sick leave guidelines amid plummeting case numbers across the state. According to the most recent data, the state’s seven-day average positivity rate is below 2%, and statewide hospitalizations are at their lowest point since November 2021. Mask mandates for indoor venues ended in mid-February, follow the mandate being lifted for schools on Wednesday, March 2.
As the pandemic outlook improves, many New Yorkers are wondering what the DOL’s updated COVID-19 paid sick leave guidelines mean for them and their families. FingerLakes1.com sat down with Tully Rinckey PLLC attorney Adam Grogan to discuss who qualifies for COVID-19 sick leave under the new guidelines, how compensation differs based on employer, and potential future changes to the policy.
Eligibility requirements and how to request leave
The DOL’s policy states that most employees who are subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation are eligible to receive financial compensation through a combination of benefits. That combination may include employer-provided COVID-19 sick leave, Paid Family Leave, and disability benefits. Paid Family Leave may also be used to care for a family member who have contracted COVID-19.
Notably, the updated guidelines limit the number of times an employee can qualify for paid COVID-19 quarantine leave to three times maximum. There are several steps you must follow to request compensation.
“You need to fill out a form, and some parts of the form requires employers’ input, so you’ll need to send the completed forms to the employer so they can fill in their sections,” explained Grogan. “The employer has three business days to complete those sections and return the forms to the employee. Then, the employee has to submit the completed forms together with the mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation to your employer’s disability and Paid Family Leave insurance carrier.”
What about remote workers?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit New York in March 2020, many employers have transitioned to remote or hybrid employment options. When asked if the DOL’s quarantine leave policy would apply to remote workers, Grogan said it depends on the circumstance.
“If you are physically able to work through remote access, or other similar means, you’re not going to be eligible for COVID-19 quarantine because you would realistically be able to work if you are not showing symptoms,” said Grogan. “If you are showing symptoms and you are sick, that would be different. If you’re subject to a mandatory or precautionary quarantine, are feeling well enough to work and have the ability to work remotely, you are not going to be eligible for COVID-19 quarantine leave.”
Factoring in size of employer
Grogan pointed out that your number of allotted COVID-19 paid sick leave days depends on the size of your employer. You can find the breakdown by employer size here under the ‘Employee’s Own Quarantine/Isolation’ section.
For those that are employed by a public entity- be it a public school, a public college or university, a district, county, city, village, fire district, or the state- the size of your specific public employer does not factor into the number of COVID-19 paid sick leave days for which you qualify.
“If you work for a public employer, you receive 14 days of paid COVID-19 sick leave regardless of how many employees the particular employer has,” added Grogan.
Future of COVID-19 sick leave policy
Under the DOL’s updated policy, an employee cannot qualify for COVID-19 sick leave more than three times, but it does not outline a timeframe in which those three instances have to occur. The DOL has not announced any plans to revisit the policy but retains the right to modify it at any point.
“In a year from now, if we have a new COVID-19 variant that pushes us all back into some kind of lockdown, I would anticipate further employee protections,” said Grogan.