2020 was a tough year: all New Yorkers had to face the challenges created by COVID-19, and many have had to navigate work while balancing taking care of themselves and loved ones. At A Better Balance, we hear from workers about these challenges each day through our free legal helpline, from those who tested positive and need time off to quarantine to those wondering whether they’ll have the time they need to bond with a new child or a care for a sick loved one. Thankfully, New York provides important rights that can help in these situations, with additional protections coming in January.
As one of the states that was hit hardest by COVID-19 in the spring, New York State took critical steps to protect workers by enacting a permanent statewide paid sick leave law in 2020, covering all private sector (non-government) employees. Starting in 2021, workers across the state will be able to earn and use up to 40 hours (or five eight-hour days) of sick leave per year, while those working for larger employers can earn and use even more time. Eligible workers began accruing leave as of September 30 of this year, and can start taking their sick leave on January 1. Earned sick leave can be used for a variety of reasons, including when you’re sick or have a doctor’s appointment, and when you’re caring for a sick family member. The law covers all illnesses, ranging from your everyday cold to COVID-19 and, for most workers, this time will be paid. And New Yorkers who have or have been exposed to COVID-19 may have additional paid sick leave rights under an emergency law that was enacted in the spring.
New York City workers are likely also covered under the City’s sick time law, which offers similar protections and has been in effect since 2014 but recently got some important upgrades. With recent changes in the law, workers will be able to use their time as soon as they’ve earned it, regardless of when they started working for their employer, and many workers will now have the right to earn and use more time than before.
Since 2018, millions of New Yorkers have had the right to paid, job-protected time off to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, bond with a new child, or address needs due to a family member’s military deployment. This type of leave is called “paid family leave” and in 2021, New York’s paid family leave protections are expanding! Beginning in January, eligible workers can take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave—2 weeks more than was available in 2020. The weekly benefits that workers will be able to receive will increase, as well: eligible workers will receive 67 percent of their average weekly wage (about two-thirds of their regular paycheck), up to cap. These expanded protections may be particularly important for workers whose family members are affected by the latest COVID-19 surge.
What’s more: all these laws apply to workers in New York regardless of citizenship or immigration status. While paid leave is just one piece of the puzzle, it is clearly indispensable to ensure that all New Yorkers are able to put themselves and their families first.