New York City Amends Sick Leave Law, Adds ‘Safe Time’ for Domestic Violence Victims

New York City Amends Sick Leave Law, Adds ‘Safe Time’ for Domestic Violence Victims

The New York City Council passed an amendment to the city’s paid sick leave law last week that would require employers to grant paid time off as “safe time” to employees when they or a family member have been the victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking, or other “family offense matters,” according to Newsday’s Matthew Chayes:

The bill, Introduction 1313-A of 2016, passed unanimously, and extends existing rules governing an employee’s “earned” sick time, which accrues over the course of time on the job, to family abuse claims.

“Often times, women would miss appointments with either a DA, or miss appointments at the police precinct, or, unfortunately in cases, had to go and serve orders of protection, they had to go themselves and weren’t able to do that because they weren’t able to take the time off work,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-Queens), a prime sponsor of the bill.

Mayor Bill deBlasio has not yet signed the bill into law, but is expected to do so soon, and if he does, it will go into effect 180 days after his signature. At Lexology, a group of Jackson Lewis attorneys detail the circumstances under which employees would be entitled to “safe time”:

  • To obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other shelter or services program for relief from a family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking or human trafficking.
  • To participate in safety planning, temporarily relocate, or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee’s family members from future family offense matters, sexual offenses, stalking or human trafficking.
  • To meet with a civil attorney or other social service provider to obtain information and advice on, and prepare for or participate in, any criminal or civil proceeding, including but not limited to matters related to a family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking, human trafficking, custody, visitation, matrimonial issues, orders of protection, immigration, housing, discrimination in employment, housing or consumer credit.
  • To file a complaint or domestic incident report with law enforcement.
  • To meet with a district attorney’s office.
  • To enroll children in a new school.
  • To take other actions necessary to maintain, improve or restore the physical, psychological, or economic health or safety of the employee or employee’s family member or to protect those who associate or work with the employee.

New York’s Earned Sick Time Act, passed in 2013 and in force since April 2014, entitles employees to one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work, up to 40 hours per year, with unused accrued hours carrying over into the next year. Opponents of sick leave mandates argue that they impose unreasonable burdens on employers that lead to cuts in jobs and work hours for employees, but research suggests the benefits of sick leave outweigh the cost, and one survey of city businesses last year suggested the law had not had a significant impact on business expenses or hiring.

The bill passed last week would also amend the act in other ways that could increase employers’ sick leave liabilities, Seyfarth Shaw attorneys Joshua D. Seidman and William P. Perkins note at Lexology, namely by expanding the definition of covered family members:

In particular, the expanded definition of “family member” not only includes the current list of (a) child, (b) spouse, (c) domestic partner, (d) parent, (e) sibling, (f) grandchild, (g) grandparent, and (h) the child or parent of an employee’s spouse or domestic partner, but it also includes (i) any other individual related by blood to the employee, and (j) any other individual whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. The term “equivalent of a family relationship” is not defined by the amendment.

This amendment is noteworthy because it goes beyond just “safe time” and expands the coverage for the use of sick time as well.

Seidman and Perkins also note that, for the purposes of “safe time,” the bill allows employers to request reasonable documentation from employees proving that absences of more than three consecutive work days were due to a protected circumstance. However, it also “expressly prohibits employers from requiring that any such documentation specify the details of the family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking.”