On March 12, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed a bill that requires New York employers to provide paid leave to employees so they can receive a COVID-19 vaccination.  The law took effect upon signing, and will expire and be deemed repealed on December 31, 2022.  The law applies to both public and private employers.

The bill amends the New York Labor Law (NYLL), requiring that all private employers provide their employees with a “sufficient period of time,” up to four hours, of paid leave to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  The bill also amends the Civil Service Law, which applies to public employers, to provide the same leave benefits to public employees.

The law provides four hours per injection, so employees can potentially be entitled to up to eight hours of paid time off if they receive a vaccination that requires two doses.  The leave cannot be charged against any other leave to which the employee is entitled, including New York’s recently enacted Paid Sick and Safe Leave Law.

The entire period of leave must be provided at an employee’s regular rate of pay. The law also protects employees from discrimination against, retaliation against, or interference with their exercising of rights granted under the law, including requesting paid leave to be vaccinated.

The leave requirements in the NYLL can be waived by a collective bargaining agreement if it explicitly references the law.  The amendments to the Civil Service Law, however, do not appear to allow employees to waive their rights by collective bargaining agreement.  Instead, the amendments to the Civil Service Law only state that the law shall not impede on the bargaining rights of public employers and employees.

The new law is relatively short on details, and leaves a number of questions unanswered.  For example, the law does not explain: (1) whether employers can ask for proof of vaccination; (2) whether employees are entitled to leave if they have sufficient time to receive a vaccine during non-working hours; or (3) whether employees will be entitled to paid leave if government agencies recommend a booster shot before the law expires.

The State may issue additional guidance clarifying how the law will be interpreted, but because the law took effect upon signing, employers must be prepared to handle requests for time off now.   Accordingly, employers should update their leave policies to address COVID-19 vaccine leave requirements and ensure that their managers are trained on how to handle requests for time off to get vaccinated.

Our attorneys addressed vaccine considerations, as well as other critical COVID-related issues, in a March 25 webinar. Download a replay of the program here.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York State, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse and White Plains, as well as New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.