One aspect of the new New York Paid Sick Leave Law that often does not receive attention is that portion of the law that allows an employee to take paid leave if the employee or a family member has been the victim of domestic violence or a sexual or family offense, frequently referred to as safe leave.
In general, after Jan. 1, 2021, the New York Paid Sick Leave Law requires every New York employer to provide its employees with paid leave if the employee or a member of their family for whom they are providing care or assistance with care is sick or for whom safe leave is needed.
Employers with 100 or more employees must provide up to 56 hours of paid leave per calendar year, and employers with 5-99 employees must provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per calendar year. Employers with 4 or less employees also have to provide up to 40 hours of leave, although whether the leave is paid or unpaid depends on whether the company earned more than one million dollars in the previous tax year. Leave can accrue over time or be front-loaded at the beginning of the calendar year. Also, unused leave must be carried over to the next calendar year, although employers may limit employee use to the number of hours that the employee is entitled to use within any calendar year.
Specifically, with regard to safe leave, under the New York law an employer must permit its employees to take a paid absence from work when the employee or employee’s family member has been the victim of domestic violence, a family offense, sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking due to any of the following as it relates to the domestic violence, family offense, sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking:
- to obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other services program;
- to participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocate, or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee’s family members;
- to meet with an attorney or other social services provider to obtain information and advice on, and prepare for or participate in any criminal or civil proceeding;
- 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; or
- to take any other actions necessary to ensure the health or safety of the employee or the employee’s family member or to protect those who associate or work with the employee.
Under recent guidance issued by the New York State Department of Labor, safe leave is not dependent upon an employee having first reported to law enforcement or a criminal conviction against the abuser. An employee may use safe leave if the police have not been contacted or if the perpetrator has not been convicted.
While not often discussed, safe leave is an important component of paid leave laws and allows employees to take paid leave at what may be a critical time. Employers may also want to check their handbook to make sure that safe leave is included in their leave policies.