When COVID-19 began to spread throughout the United States and led to mass shutdowns or adaptation to teleworking of many businesses, New York State implemented programs to guarantee workers job protection and financial compensation if they are required to miss work due to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation. Further, New York State’s programs also ensured that workers would receive job protection and financial compensation in the event that they are forced to miss work due to the quarantine or isolation of a minor dependent child or to take care of a family member who has contracted COVID-19. However, the application of the benefits and number of days covered vary based on who has contracted COVID-19 or been subjected to the order of quarantine and other factors, including the size of the worker’s employer and the employer’s annual income. Further, many workers are unaware of their specific rights to use COVID-19 leave and uncertain whether their employers are responsible for providing the leave or if the worker must use their own sick or vacation leave when exposed to COVID-19. This article will discuss the intricacies of New York State’s COVID-19 leave policies, as well as what employees need to do in order to apply for paid sick leave.
New York State’s Varying COVID-19 Leave Policies
If a Worker is Under an Order of Quarantine
For workers who are under a mandatory order of quarantine and unable to telework, the leave available depends on the size of their employer and their employer’s net annual income. Workers whose employer had 10 or fewer employees as of January 1, 2020, and a net annual income of less than $1 million must be provided with unpaid COVID-19 sick leave for the duration of the quarantine, and the worker has job protection. In order for workers of those small employers to receive any type of compensation, they must use NYS Paid Family Leave, which provides up to 67% of the worker’s pay, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $840.70. To make up the remainder of their pay for that period, a worker may apply for disability benefits, which provides additional pay to match the worker’s full pay up to a maximum weekly disability benefit of $2,043.92. As a result, the maximum weekly benefit from NYS Paid Family Leave and Disability is $2,884.62 for a worker employed by a small employer.
For workers whose employer had 11-99 employees as of January 1, 2020, or a smaller employer (10 or less employees) with a net annual income of more than $1 million, their employer must provide them with paid COVID-19 sick leave for at least 5 days, and the worker has job protection. Following the use of the 5 days of paid COVID-19 sick leave, the worker may then use a combination of NYS Paid Family Leave and disability benefits as discussed above to be paid up to a total of $2,884.62 per week.
On the other hand, workers whose employer had more than 100 employees as of January 1, 2020, as well as all public employees, their employer must provide at least 14 days of paid COVID-19 sick leave, which will cover the period of mandatory quarantine, and the worker has job protection.
It is important to note that a worker is only eligible for COVID-19 paid leave if under a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine from New York State, NYS Department of Health, a local Board of Health, or any government entity authorized to issue such order. A worker who independently chooses to isolate or quarantine following exposure, but who is not subject to an order of quarantine, is not eligible for COVID-19 paid leave. However, if an employer mandates that a worker who is unable to telework and not subject to an order of quarantine remain out of work due to a potential exposure, the employer must continue to pay the worker their regular pay until the employer permits them to return to work. Further, an employer must provide any and all paid COVID-19 sick leave separate from any accruals of a worker’s sick or vacation leave.
If a Worker’s Minor Dependent Child is Under an Order of Quarantine
For workers whose minor dependent children are under a mandatory order of quarantine and unable to telework, whether leave is available depends on if the worker is eligible to take Paid Family Leave. Most workers for private employers are covered under Paid Family Leave, while public employees are only covered if their employer opts in or if their union and employer have agreed to it in their collective-bargaining agreement.
A full-time employee, or someone who works a regular schedule of 20 or more hours per week, is eligible for Paid Family Leave after 26 consecutive weeks with their employer. On the other hand, a part-time employee, or someone who works a regular schedule of less than 20 hours per week, is eligible for Paid Family Leave after working for their employer for 175 days, which need not be consecutive.
For those who use Paid Family Leave, they are guaranteed job protection, for their health insurance to continue while on leave, and for their employer to be prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against the worker for using Paid Family Leave. Further, they are entitled to Paid Family Leave, which provides up to 67% of the worker’s pay, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $840.70. Thus, unlike a worker who is under an order of quarantine, a worker whose minor dependent child is under an order of quarantine is not eligible for disability benefits to supplement their missing wages after receiving Paid Family Leave.
If a Worker’s Family Member Contracts COVID-19
Separate from the situation where a minor dependent child is subject to quarantine, if a worker’s family member contracts COVID-19 and it is a serious health condition, the worker may take Paid Family Leave to care for them. According to the legislation, eligible family members include one’s spouse, domestic partner, children, parents, parent-in-law, grandparents, or grandchildren, even if that family member is outside of New York. The family member who contracted COVID-19 must be suffering from it as a serious health condition, meaning that they require inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential health care facility, or continuing treatment or continuing supervision by a health care provider, and the documentation must be certified by a licensed health care provider. Once the Paid Family Leave has been approved, the worker is eligible for up to 12 weeks of Paid Family Leave at 67% of the worker’s pay, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $1,068.36. Thus, unlike a worker who is under an order of quarantine, a worker caring for a family member with a serious health condition is not eligible for disability benefits to supplement their missing wages after receiving Paid Family Leave.
Applying the Different Policies
Given the different policies, it is easy to understand how a worker may be confused as to which policy applies to them and whether their employer is actually obligated to provide them with COVID-19 leave. Based on the guidelines above, it is most important for the worker to determine whether they or their minor dependent child is actually under an order of quarantine or whether their employer mandated that they remain at home, as a self-imposed quarantine will not suffice. Next, the worker must determine the size of their employer to figure out how many days of COVID-19 sick leave they are entitled to. Following that, the worker must apply for Paid Family Leave and/or disability benefits to receive a substitute for their wages for the period they are forced to remain away from work that is not otherwise covered by the COVID-19 sick leave paid by their employer. While New York State and CDC policies may change and be difficult to interpret, workers must always remain vigilant to ensure that their rights are being followed and their benefits and compensation protected.