This week, New York City updated its Earned Sick and Safe Time Act (ESSTA) to allow for stronger enforcement by including a private right of action, so that workers will have the ability to seek remedies in court when their right to paid sick time has been violated. New York City helped lead the way in protecting workers’ health and financial security by passing paid sick time legislation in 2013. At the time, A Better Balance was proud to help lead a coalition and make New York one of the first jurisdictions to guarantee all workers the right to paid time off when they or a family member is sick. Over the years, the law has been improved in many ways—including the addition of paid safe time protections for domestic violence victims. However, the means of enforcing the law was limited to addressing complaints filed with the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, which, through no fault of the agency, often meant that workers who were fired or otherwise discriminated against for taking sick time were left without their income and unable to obtain full relief.
For example, our client, Tony Lynah, was fired from his job as a grounds operation crew member at JFK airport by Jet Blue Airlines in 2014 because he took time off to care for his mother who had suffered a stroke and required around the clock care. “My attorneys at A Better Balance explained to me that because the law does not have a ‘private right of action,’ I could not sue JetBlue in court on my own to try to get my job back and had to wait out the City’s complaint process,” said Tony in testimony read before the New York City Council last year. “Having to rely on the City would make things take forever. As long as there’s a private right to go to litigation you don’t have to go to the City. I think that’s great,” he told us after this week’s update to the program. Although Tony did receive monetary compensation, full vindication would have meant his return to a job he loved.
Tony’s story, and stories like his, helped convince the New York City Council to add the right to go to court to the enforcement mechanisms available for paid sick time violations. We are grateful for the tireless efforts of Council Member Gale Brewer, whose courage and persistence made sure the right to paid sick time was enacted in 2013 despite tremendous political obstacles, and who led the way (alongside her chief of staff, Shula Puder) towards updating the law now with a private right of action. From now on, workers like Tony will be able to use the power of the courts to get their jobs back when they are illegally fired for taking the time they need and deserve to care for themselves and their families.