Photo of Barbara E. Hoey

President Biden announced that his administration had reached its goal of 200 million vaccine shots administered during his first 100 days in office. Not stopping there, the President also made a special call to employers across the United States to use their unique resources to help their employees and others get vaccinated.

To encourage more

Paid sick and family leave is expanding. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the special pressures it has placed on parents and families, has renewed the push for mandated paid sick and family leave. Congress’ decision not to expand the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in the latest relief package, has spurred state and local governments to renew their efforts to provide COVID-19 paid sick leave and, in some cases, permanent paid sick leave.

Also, is it safe to assume the federal government is not planning to pass a paid sick leave mandate? After all, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which passed in 2019, was just expanded in October 2020. The answer is no, because all signs indicate that a paid federal leave mandate for private employers will be on the horizon during the Biden administration. But until that time comes, employers with a national or multi-state presence will need to comply with a hodgepodge of state and local laws.
Continue Reading Paid Sick Leave Trends: States and Localities Step In Where Federal Law Falls Short

On Friday March 12, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed into law legislation which requires that beginning March 12, 2021, all New York employers must provide up to four hours of paid leave per COVID-19 vaccine injection. Below are the salient features of the new law:

Who is covered?

All employees irrespective of employer size or industry.

What amount of leave are employees entitled to?

Up to four hours off per vaccine injection, paid at the employee’s “regular rate of pay.”

The law does not specifically address how much time an employee is entitled to if the vaccine requires two injections, but the law is drafted as permitting leave “per vaccine injection,” thus employees who receive a two shot vaccination could be entitled up to eight hours of paid leave.

When does the law expire?
Continue Reading NY Employees Granted Up to Four Hours of Excused Leave Per Vaccine Injection

The EEOC recently released its Enforcement and Litigation Data for Fiscal Year 2020, which ran from September 2019 to September 30, 2020—6 months before (September 2019 – March 2020) and 6 months during the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020 – September 2020)—and several interesting trends emerged. Looking back, it is hard to say if the trends we see now would remain the same if everything hadn’t come to a complete halt exactly one year ago. Regardless, the EEOC started a new fiscal year on October 2020, and with the pandemic still raging on we can look to last year’s litigation data to provide hints about what we might expect as we go forward.
Continue Reading Litigation Data: 6 Months With and 6 Without COVID-19

While many states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, marijuana remains an illegal controlled substance under federal law. As we have previously discussed, this has created a conundrum of sorts for employers who want to maintain a drug free workplace. In New York State, the landscape for employers has just gotten more challenging.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in the state since 2014. Governor Cuomo has since announced legalized recreational use may soon follow. Additionally, in New York City, employers are prohibited, with certain exceptions, from testing job applicants for marijuana. Employers can, however, test current employees.

Despite these legislative initiatives, a question still remains: What happens if an employee tests positive at work, but has a prescription for medical marijuana? A recent New York appellate court decision warns employers should proceed with caution.


Continue Reading The Cannabis Conundrum: A Warning For Employers

On January 20, 2021, the New York State Department of Labor issued new guidance on the state’s COVID-19 sick leave law, which clarifies employees’ leave entitlements and expands employers’ obligations under the law.

As a reminder, New York’s COVID-19 sick leave law provides paid and unpaid sick leave, with access to expanded paid family leave and temporary disability, for employees ordered to quarantine or isolate as a result of COVID-19. The amount of leave and entitlements depends on the size of the employer and its net income. We provided an overview of the law and its requirements here.
Continue Reading NY Expands COVID-19 Paid Leave

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20, 2021, signaling the official change in administration. Employers can certainly expect to see a shift in the direction of federal labor and employment laws. Already, Biden’s recent appointment of Marty Walsh, a union official, to Secretary of Labor, signifies a new era in NLRB activity and pro-employee and pro-union labor laws.  Further, the DOL and EEOC are bound to be more aggressive in undertaking many initiatives overlooked by the Trump Administration.

Federal labor and employment laws aside, New York employers should be reminded of new state laws for 2021.  Here are just a few of the highlights.
Continue Reading 2021 Employment Law Spotlight: New York

On the heels of the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the EEOC updated its Technical Assistance Q & A to help employers navigate the latest pandemic related challenges. The EEOC guidance can be found here.

Below are highlights of the EEOC’s guidance, and our practical advice for employers who are considering rolling out a mandatory vaccination program for their employees.

Before jumping on the mandatory vaccination bandwagon, employers should consider these important questions:

  • Does your company need a mandatory vaccination program? Should you leave it to your employees to make their own decisions?
  • If you decide to implement a mandatory vaccination program, how will you announce it, how will you roll it out, and what is the timing? Have you factored in that vaccines may not be available to all employees at the same time?
  • If you decide to implement a mandatory vaccination program, how will you handle requests for exemptions? What will you do with employees who refuse to be vaccinated?
  • What are the pitfalls of a mandatory vaccination program?

Let’s break this down further.

Can employers mandate that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

The answer is yes.

The EEOC’s updated guidance now addresses issues regarding “mandatory vaccinations” and makes clear that employers can mandate that employees get the COVID-19 vaccination. The justification for mandating vaccination, especially during the pandemic, is based on the premise that unvaccinated employees present a “direct threat” to others in the workplace. (K.5.).

Many employers are already stating that once the vaccine is widely available they may mandate a vaccine before employees can return to the office. However, as will be discussed below, even if a mandatory policy is enacted, employees may nonetheless be entitled to exemptions on the basis of disability or religious accommodation.

Do employers need a mandatory program?

The answer depends on your business.

If you run a business where your employees can safely work remotely or socially distance, you may not need it right away. On the other hand, if you run a retail business, school, a restaurant, or any similar business where employees circulate among each other or deal with the public, a mandatory vaccination program may beneficial to your operation. Many retail and customer facing industries believe that it will be a good advertisement if they can say that their employees are all vaccinated.

Whatever the approach, employers should not jump in without weighing the costs and benefits. Things to consider include administrative costs, challenges to implementing a mandatory program, such as training and legal compliance.

How will you roll it out and when?

Here again, messaging and timing must be carefully considered.  Right now, vaccines are only available to frontline healthcare workers. Thus, if your business does not fall into that category, you will need to wait until vaccines are available to your workforce to institute a mandatory program. Even then, you may have to allow for a vaccine rollout over time, and only make the mandate applicable to those employees who are eligible to receive a vaccine.

In the early months of 2021, practical questions about fairness may arise. For example, if an employee wishes to comply but a vaccine is not available to them, should they be excluded from the workplace? Employers adopting a mandatory program will likely face, and should be prepared to handle a number of similar questions.

Next let’s look at the issues surrounding employees receiving the vaccination.
Continue Reading The EEOC Confirms You CAN Mandate a Vaccine, But SHOULD You?

On January 20, 2021, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Whichever side of the political spectrum you fall on, there can be no question that this is going to signal changes – and not all of them positive – for employers. For all

As employers are well aware by now, New York enacted statewide paid sick leave requirements for employers, which took effect on September 30, 2020. We provided an overview of requirements for the new law here. Under the law, New York employers must provide all employees with sick leave and grant employees the ability to use accrued sick time starting January 1, 2021. The amount of sick leave an employer must provide under the law varies depending on an employer’s size and net income.

Recently, New York State issued much anticipated guidance and in a seven page FAQ document regarding the State’s new paid sick leave law. That guidance can be found here.

Although the guidance doesn’t answer every single question employers will have, the FAQs provide clarification as to Definitions, Accruals, Permitted Uses, Who is Eligible, Leave Increments, Rate of Pay, Alternative Accrual System, and Collective Bargaining Agreement and Other Leave Laws, Employee Rights & Protections, and Miscellaneous Questions.

We have excerpted  below a few key FAQs for employers to consider as they continue to work through COVID-19 and employers consider necessary revisions to their leave policies:

If employers choose an accrual based method for calculating leave under the NYPSL, they should be aware that out of state telework may impact an employee’s entitlement. The FAQs suggest that employees are only eligible to accrue sick leave based on hours worked while physically within the state of New York:

DOES AN EMPLOYER HAVE TO PROVIDE SICK LEAVE TO EMPLOYEES WHO TELECOMMUTE OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK STATE?

Employees who telecommute are covered by the law only for the hours when they are physically working in New York State, even if the employer is physically located outside New York State.

With many employees are already working from home, it is also important to note that, under the new law employers cannot require employees to telecommute in lieu of taking sick leave:
Continue Reading State Issues Guidance for NY Paid Sick Leave Law