Effective March 12, 2021, all public and private employers in New York must provide each employee with up to four hours of paid leave to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine injection. The new law, which took effect immediately after being signed by Governor Cuomo, adds a new Section 196-c to the New York Labor Law and Section 159-c to the New York Civil Service Law.
Employees are entitled to paid leave, at their regular rate of pay, for a “sufficient period of time, not to exceed four hours per vaccine injection,” unless the employee is entitled to receive a greater number of hours under an existing employer policy or collective bargaining agreement. Accordingly, employees who must take two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are entitled to take up to eight hours (i.e., four hours per injection) of leave. The paid leave provision expires on December 31, 2022.
Notably, employers cannot require employees to use any sick leave or other paid leave benefits to which the employees are already entitled, such as paid sick leave required under the New York State or New York City laws. In addition, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who request or take leave under the new law.
However, the law is silent on several key issues, including whether (1) employees who already used paid leave to take the vaccine may be entitled to reinstatement of their leave, (2) employers can require proof of vaccination in connection with approving the leave, and (3) employees can be required to provide a certain amount of advance notice of their need to take leave.
Following the enactment of the law, the New York State Department of Labor published a FAQs page, in which it advises employers that they can require employees to provide notice before taking paid leave and to submit proof of vaccination before they can claim leave benefits. In addition, the law does not create any retroactive benefit rights, and only employees receiving vaccinations on or after March 12, 2021 are eligible for paid leave.
As New York State continues to expand the categories of workers currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, employers should implement policies and procedures to address a potential influx of vaccine-related leave requests. According to New York City’s vaccine eligibility guidance page, all New Yorkers are expected to be eligible to take the vaccine this spring.