Effective March 12, 2021, all New York State employers are required to provide employees with paid time off (PTO) to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the employee’s regular rate of pay. Employees may take up to four hours per vaccine, i.e., four hours total for a single-dose vaccine, or eight hours total for a two-dose vaccine. This paid leave must be in addition to any other sick or personal leave to which the employee may already be entitled. The law sunsets on December 31, 2022. Retaliation is prohibited under the law.
The law is quite generous but leaves a number of areas open for debate:
Retroactivity: Should employers restore PTO accruals to employees who used sick or personal time to get vaccinated before March 12? The leave grant must be applied retroactively only to March 12.
Notice Requirements: How should employers phrase requests for advance notice? The law does not impose any notice requirements on the employees, so employers may not deny vaccine leave requests just because the employee fails to provide advance notice.
Use of Leave: Should employers grant additional leave for employees who experience negative side effects from the injection? This additional leave is not required under the law, but many vaccine recipients have reported side effects that impair their ability to work for hours or days following the injection. Employers with calendar-year PTO accrual schedules may want to consider offering additional leave for employees who may not have accrued sufficient PTO for the recovery period.
Documentation (Proof of Vaccine Receipt): May employers request proof of vaccination after the employee returns from leave, even though the law does not require the employee to provide any documentation? If and when requesting documentation, employers must exercise caution and treat all employees equally to avoid any claims of disparate treatment or retaliation. Employers should consider all privacy and confidentiality concerns before entering this territory.
Training for Managers: Must employers train managers on implementing this law? The law is fairly straightforward. But retaliation is a very real concern, and it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the policy is applied in an equitable manner by managers across the company.
The New York State Department of Labor is expected to issue regulations clarifying some of these questions. Until then, employers should tread carefully to ensure that employees are granted their full rights under the new law.