Public employers can't discipline workers for COVID absence under new NY law

Sarah Taddeo
New York State Team

Public employees in New York can’t be penalized for taking sick leave or compensatory time for reasons related to COVID-19 thanks to a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Under the new measure, public employers are specifically prohibited from penalizing employees who use sick leave or compensatory time to quarantine or seek medical treatment for COVID-19, or for other absences related to a COVID-19 diagnosis or contact. 

That means those working in schools, local governments or state prisons can’t be dismissed or hit with write-ups for COVID-19 related absences, Cuomo said.

A nurse holds a swab for the coronavirus / COVID-19 test.

"No one should have to suffer a penalty for missing work because of COVID, and under this new law, every public employee in our state will get the protection they deserve — so they don't have to face unfair consequences for doing what was necessary to protect themselves and their loved ones,” he said. 

The bill, which lawmakers approved in April, came in response to a New York Daily News report on more than 800 New York City Department of Corrections employees who were left with tarnished work records after COVID-19 quarantine periods and illness because their employer marked them as “chronically absent.”

“It was shocking to find out that the New York City Department of Corrections was actually punishing their own employees for following the rules that we adopted right here in the State of New York,” Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, a former labor leader, said in a statement. “We will not tolerate this type of punitive action against employees who show up and follow the laws and the rules that we write."

The new law, which takes effect immediately, builds on other COVID-related protections already enacted in the state, like paid leave for New Yorkers under mandatory or precautionary quarantine and guaranteed time off from work to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The state also passed a bill last year on general paid sick leave, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

That law allows workers to receive five to seven paid or unpaid days off, depending on the employer’s net income, which can be used for their own illness, the care of a sick family member or to tend their or a family member’s needs related to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. 

Prior to the law's passage, about 1.3 million New Yorkers did not have access to paid sick leave. 

Sarah Taddeo is an enterprise reporter for USA Today Network's New York State Team. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or (585) 258-2774. Follow her on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Please consider becoming a digital subscriber.