On November 21, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law clarifying that it is unlawful for an employer to penalize an employee for any absence protected under federal, state or local law. (S.1958/A.8092). The law goes into effect on February 19, 2023.

This new law amends Section 215 of New York Labor Law by protecting workers from being penalized or in any manner retaliated against for taking legally protected absences. There are a myriad of federal, state and local laws that entitle New York employees to paid and unpaid time off from work including the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the New York Paid Family Leave law, the New York Paid Sick Leave law and New York City Earned Safe and Sick Time Act to name just a few.  Under the amended law, when an employee is absent for a legally protected reason, employers are prohibited from “assessing any demerit, occurrence, any other point, or deductions from an allotted bank of time, which subjects or could subject an employee to disciplinary action, which may include but not be limited to failure to receive a promotion or loss of pay.” Violations of the law can lead to significant civil penalties and damages.

New York employers should review their attendance and leave of absence policies to ensure compliance with this new law. If you have questions about your obligations, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.

The legal landscape around abortion rights has changed greatly following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392 (June 24, 2022), which ended a nearly 50-year precedent protecting the right to abortion and opened the door for states to implement and enforce new laws on access to abortion. As a result, many employers have been considering new policies and benefit offerings based on these changes.

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Puerto Rico’s disability discrimination statute (Law 44-1985), the local counterpart of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been amended to extend coverage to registered and authorized medical cannabis patients. The amendment (Law 90-2022) went into effect on October 14, 2022, upon Governor Pedro Pierluisi’s signing.

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With midterm elections upon us, employers should ensure they are aware of and in compliance with state law requirements related to employee voting rights. While not all states impose requirements on employers, some impose time off obligations and notice requirements with the possibility of criminal or civil penalties for non-compliance.

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In June, San Francisco voters approved Proposition G, which created the Public Health Emergency Leave Ordinance (PHELO). The ordinance requires private employers to provide paid leave to employees for “public health emergencies.” The ordinance took effect on October 1, 2022. In conjunction with the effective date, San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) issued a Frequently Asked Questions page to assist with the application of the new law.

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a fact resource on October 4, 2022, reaffirming that Title IX of the Education Amendments Act protects students and employees from discrimination based on pregnancy and related conditions.

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California has extended COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (SPSL) through December 31, 2022. On September 29, 2022, California’s Governor signed Assembly Bill (AB) 152 which amends the existing SPSL law and provides for state grants to certain employers.  

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Based on our experience advising hundreds of employers and closely watching court rulings on cases around the country, we offer a few tips for complying with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Employers should follow their own policies with respect to FMLA leave and requests for time off. To avoid potential issues, employers should ensure that they have established, formal policies in place regarding the FMLA and leave programs. These policies should include directing employees how to request FMLA leave, and a robust policy for calling out of work, among other things.

Once those policies are in place, employers should follow their policies, including by directing employees to HR when they request FMLA leaves outside the established channels. In certain situations, disputes have arisen over whether employees have satisfied their FMLA notice obligations through informal messages, such as through text or social media messages. If an informal message is received through text or social media, managers should let the employee know that they appreciate the communication, but they need to follow the company’s established channels for requesting time off work. Managers should then let human resources know of the situation for proper follow-up. Setting expectations for reporting absences and requests for time off early and often will help ensure the company’s FMLA compliance and avoid future disputes about whether proper notice was provided.

Employers should train managers and HR to recognize circumstances that may trigger FMLA and to follow and enforce the company’s established process for reporting the need for time off. Employers should ensure that their managers and supervisors are aware of and adhere to the company’s policies for attendance and FMLA leave. When employees request leave from managers/supervisors, whether formally or informally, those individuals should report those requests to HR for handling.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist employers with FMLA compliance, from drafting policies to providing creative and engaging trainings on these policies for managers and other employees.