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December 28, 2017

Enhanced New York City Paid Leave Law for Domestic Violence Victims Takes Effect May 5, 2018

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill renaming New York City's existing sick leave law to the Earned Sick and Safe Time Act ("ESSTA"), which takes effect in May 2018. For New York City employees, the new law expands sick leave to encompass so-called "safe time," which would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking time off for health appointments, counseling, court appearances and other related services. In addition, the new law expands the definition of "family members" who also have the right to take time off to assist victims.

The existing law, which has been in effect since April 2014, allows employees to accrue one hour of paid leave time for every 30 hours they work, up to a maximum of 40 paid hours per year. Covered employees include anyone who works in New York City for at least 80 hours per year for employers with five or more employees.  Employers with one to four employees who work more than 80 hours per year in New York City must provide unpaid sick leave. ESSTA does not change the maximum number of hours workers can accrue, but it broadens the circumstances under which leave may be requested and the categories of employees who may request it to assist someone else.

Examples of acceptable leave requests include employees filing a police report, visiting a rape crisis center or a domestic violence shelter, meeting with a civil attorney or the district attorney's office, attending a court appearance, enrolling children in a new school, or simply accompanying a family member to these events. Employers may require reasonable documentation to confirm the leave was covered under the law but, in order to protect victims' privacy, employers cannot ask for specific details of the underlying offense.

ESSTA defines "family member" as a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or child or parent of an employee's spouse or domestic partner. Also covered are any other blood relative or individual who has the "equivalent of a family relationship" (not defined in the law) with the employee. This expansion was intended to recognize chosen families, not just biological ones.

New York City employers with existing sick leave policies are encouraged to review those policies to ensure compliance with ESSTA's "safe time" components and expanded coverage of family members. Members of Barclay Damon's labor and employment practice would be pleased to assist in those review efforts before the law becomes effective in May 2018.

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