Department of Consumer Affairs’ Nearly Triples Paid Sick Leave Restitution for Nearly 16,000 New Yorkers
Mayor Bill de Blasio, Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lorelei Salas and New Yorkers celebrated the third anniversary of New York’s Paid Sick Leave Law, which created the legal right to sick leave for 3.4 million private and nonprofit sector workers, nearly 1.2 million of whom did not previously have access to this vital workplace benefit. Last month, New York City recorded its lowest unemployment rate since 1976, continuing a strong expansion of new jobs that has coincided with new protections for employees. Over the past three years, DCA secured restitution for nearly 16,000 New Yorkers, and this past weekend the agency filed charges on behalf of nine JetBlue ground crew and flight attendants against JetBlue for violating the law.
“In New York, we’ve shown that protecting working families and growing our economy go hand-in-hand,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “For the last three years, businesses can no longer punish employees for taking time off to care for themselves or a sick child, a benefit to families and to public health. At the same time, New York’s economy is booming, with unemployment reaching lows not seen for over forty years. I thank the City Council for taking leadership and passing this law, as well as the Department of Consumer Affairs for protecting and supporting workers, especially the most vulnerable among them, including immigrants, women, people of color, or those with low incomes.”
“The Council is thrilled to mark the third anniversary of its expansion of the Paid Sick Leave Law, which has helped ensure that no New Yorker has to choose between a day's pay or caring for a sick loved one," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This important measure has expanded protections to over a million residents, and represents the commitment we hold to working for policies and legislation that make New York City a more fair and just place for its workers. I thank Mayor de Blasio and Council Member Margaret Chin, along with the staff at the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Labor Policy and Standards for their diligent work on this essential initiative.”
“Three years ago, thanks to Mayor de Blasio who significantly expanded the law, our city took a step towards building an even stronger—and healthier—workforce with its Paid Sick Leave Law,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “But there’s much more to do to fully protect our workforce and communities, especially as we anxiously face changes at the federal level. I want New Yorkers to know that our local workplace laws apply to all workers, regardless of status and no stroke of a pen in Washington will change that.”
In the three years since the Paid Sick Leave Law went into effect, the agency has closed more than 900 cases, securing more restitution for close to 16,000 employees. Many of these New Yorkers work for low wages as security guards, home health aides, restaurant workers, and retail workers, and many are immigrants, people of color, or women.
DCA’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS), which is charged with enforcing the Paid Sick Leave Law, as well as others, was formally established in 2016 under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. While DCA OLPS has investigated many different industries and employers for non-compliance with the Paid Sick Leave Law, the airline industry is one industry in New York City where OLPS has repeatedly found merit to charges against employers of violations of the law. DCA OLPS filed charges against JetBlue on Friday, March 31, 2017, which follows a case filed against Delta Airlines in February. DCA OLPS has received nine complaints from current and former JetBlue employees with various job titles (six flight attendants, two ground crew members, one customer service representative), all of whom have alleged violations of the Paid Sick Leave Law. Three of the complainants were ultimately fired as a result of JetBlue’s disciplinary policy. DCA OLPS’ charges against JetBlue include failing to properly accrue and allow employees to use sick leave, retaliation for the use of accrued leave (issuance of disciplinary “points” and termination), failing to provide pay for sick leave, and failing to provide employees with the Notice of Employee Rights as required by the law. In addition to the suits against Delta and JetBlue, DCA OLPS has an open investigation involving a third airline and a subcontracting company for the industry.
“Given the absence of any indication from the new administration in Washington that prior federal aggressive labor enforcement will continue, the City’s commitment to protecting the rights of workers is now more important than ever,” said DCA Deputy Commissioner for OLPS Liz Vladeck. “As the enforcement numbers show, DCA OLPS’ mission is to help drive a culture of compliance with respect to workplace laws, and we are working to ensure all workers in New York City are able to access the rights that our laws provide.”
Prior to the passage of the Paid Sick Leave Law, businesses raised concerns about the feasibility of implementing the law. However, these concerns have not been realized. The New York City Economic Development Corporation recently announced that the citywide unemployment has dropped to the lowest rate since 1976—4.5 percent in January 2017, which is the earliest available unemployment data from the New York State Department of Labor. New York City has added 329,800 new jobs since Mayor de Blasio took office. Additionally, research by the Murphy Institute and Center for Economic and Policy Research has shown that the City’s Paid Sick Leave Law has not had a negative impact on businesses. In fact, the overwhelming majority of employers surveyed (more than 85 percent) reported the law did not increase costs, while more than 94 percent reported that the paid sick days law had no effect on productivity, and two percent reported that productivity increased. Similarly, 96 percent of employers reported no change in customer service as a result of the new law, and more than three percent saw an increase; less than one percent reported a decrease in customer service. Virtually no employers reported any change in turnover.
Several million New Yorkers are covered under the City’s Paid Sick Leave Law. When it went into effect in 2014, New York City became the seventh jurisdiction in the country to enact such a law, and more than two dozen additional jurisdictions have enacted laws giving workers access to paid sick leave since then. DCA continues to be a leader in the nation on advocacy around the importance of paid sick leave and, with the creation of OLPS, it is New York City’s central resource for workers and employers.
DCA’s OLPS enforces, implements, and works on the development of a new generation of minimum labor standards for a stronger city. It focuses on ensuring all workers can realize these rights, regardless of immigration status. In addition to the Paid Sick Leave Law, OLPS is implementing and/or enforcing a number of municipal workplace laws, including the Commuter Benefits Law, the City’s Living and Prevailing Wage Laws, and the Grocery Workers Retention Act. DCA OLPS also houses two new first-of-their-kind initiatives: the City’s new Paid Care Division, which is dedicated to defending the rights of paid care workers, improving the quality of paid care jobs, and strengthening the paid care system, and implementation of the Freelance isn’t Free Act, which is the very first law in the country that establishes a robust ability for freelance workers to recover unpaid or delayed wages. DCA OLPS is also charged with conducting original data collection and research, policy development, education and outreach on key workplace issues, fostering relationships with community partner, and advocating for new protections to help New York City’s working families and communities thrive.
DCA’s approach to implementation of these new and future workplace municipal laws begins with extensive education and outreach to ensure that businesses and workers know and understand their rights and responsibilities under the law. For example, the Paid Sick Leave public education campaign included a multi-year education campaign that has reached more than six million New Yorkers in 26 languages through extensive advertisements in subways, buses, and local and foreign-language print media, radio, and on television. DCA also participated in almost 1,500 events where staff distributed more than 2 million brochures about paid sick leave.
Under the NYC Paid Sick Leave Law, employers with five or more employees who are hired to work more than 80 hours per calendar year in New York City must provide paid sick leave. Employees with fewer than five employees must provide unpaid sick leave. Accrual begins on employee’s first day of employment and employees can begin using accrued leave 120 days after. On the first day of employment, employers must provide the Notice of Employee Rights in English and, if available on the DCA website, their primary language. Domestic workers who have worked for their employer for more than one year must be provided two days of paid sick leave, which is in addition to the three days of paid rest under the New York State Labor Law.
Employers and employees can visit nyc.gov/PaidSickLeave or call 311 (212-NEW-YORK outside NYC) for more information, the required Notice of Employee Rights, one-page overviews for employers and employees, F
AQs, DCA’s paid sick leave training presentation, and the complaint form. DCA also developed tools to help employers keep track of employees’ hours worked and sick leave used as well as model forms for verification of authorized sick time used, intention to use sick time and request to make up missed work as an alternative to using sick time.