Sick Pay Relief for NYC Employees!

New York City (NYC) has a new Paid Sick Leave Law, also known as New York City’s Earned Sick Time Act (the Act) (Ch. 8 of Title 20 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York). It became effective April 1, 2014, and applies to employees and domestic workers who work in NYC for more than 80 hours per calendar year. The law applies to all types of employers including nonprofits and small employers. Employees can use the days off to care for themselves or sick family members.

It is the City Council’s hope that providing sick time will have a positive effect on public health, improve employee retention and productivity, and result in a more prosperous, safer and healthier city.

What employers and employees should know:

  • 5 or more employees get up to 40 hours paid sick leave.
  • 1 to 4 employees get up to 40 hours unpaid sick leave.
  • 1 or more full-time, non-related, domestic workers working for the same employer for a year get 2 days paid leave (New York State Labor Law also gives domestic workers an additional 3 paid days off).
  • Employers need to give employees written notice of the employee’s right to sick leave, notice of sick leave accrual and use, notice of the rights to file a complaint and to be free from retaliation. The notice must list the start and end dates of an employer’s calendar year. Special note: this requirement carries a $50 penalty for each employee who was not given the required notice of employee rights.
  • Accrual of sick days begins April 1, 2014, for existing employees, but begins the first day of employment for new city employees.
  • Use of the sick days begins July 30, 2014, for existing employees; but 120 days after first day of employment for new employees.
  • Employers must keep and maintain records documenting their compliance with the law for at least three years.
  • An employee may carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick leave to the next calendar year.
  • Penalties for violating the law range from $500 per first incidence to $1,000 for several incidences within two years.

Exceptions in the law

There are several exceptions within the NYC law. A list of frequently asked questions, including those relating to compliance rules, can be found on the Department of Consumer Affairs website.

Generally, the sick leave law does not apply to U.S. government or New York government agency employees; those in Federal work study programs; those receiving pay from scholarships; physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and audiologists who are licensed by the New York State Department of Education; and independent contractors.

If an employer already has health coverage that allows employees to use sick leave, the coverage must meet or exceed the new law’s requirements. In situations where an employee is subject to a collective bargaining agreement that is in effect on April 1, 2014, the employee becomes covered under the new law beginning on the date that the agreement ends.

Finally, there are some exceptions in the law relating to penalties. Employers with less than 20 employees or certain manufacturing companies listed in sectors 31, 32, or 33 of the U.S. Department of Labor’s North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) have until October 1, 2014, to comply with the law and avoid a penalty. Any first violation before October 1, 2014 will not be counted against these employers.

New York City joins Newark, Jersey City, Portland, Seattle, District of Columbia, and San Francisco in mandating paid sick leave, allowing hundreds of thousands of workers to sigh a bit of relief when they or their family members are ill.

Which city will be next?


Highlight on Missouri: Sharp Divisions Between Governor and Legislature

The nations battles over health care issues, including abortion and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, continue to play out in Missouri. In the latest development, women will not have to wait 72 hours for an abortion because Governor Jay Nixon (D) vetoed  HB 1307, which would have imposed the requirement. The bill did not include any exception to the 72-hour wait even in cases of rape or incest.   Governor Nixon stated that the bill was “disrespectful” and “would unnecessarily prolong the suffering of rape and incest victims and jeopardize the health and well-being of women.”

The bill would have tripled the current minimum waiting period. Even if it had contained exceptions for rape and incest, Nixon said, the bill would still have been unacceptable because the delay:

  • served “no demonstrable purpose” other than to add to the emotional and financial hardships attendant to unplanned pregnancy;
  • presupposed that women were not capable of making difficult decisions for themselves; and
  • made the procedure more dangerous, thereby endangering women’s health.

Nixon noted that Missouri law currently requires the following to be given to the woman, in person, and in print, at least 24 hours before an abortion:

  • a detailed explanation of the procedure, risks, and contraindications;
  • counseling concerning the available alternatives to abortion;
  • a list of agencies that provide alternative services;
  • advice about the obligation of the father to support the child;
  • a detailed description of the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus at each stage of development, in two-week increments, accompanied by color photographs or images;
  • the opportunity to view an “active ultrasound” and hear the fetal heartbeat;
  • on each page of the material described above, prominently displayed, the statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

Missouri law requires the physician to have admitting privileges at a hospital that offers obstetrical or gynecological services within 30 miles of the location where the abortion is performed and to inform the woman that the physician will be available to provide follow-up care at that hospital if complications arise.

Affordable Care Act Implementation

The Missouri legislature has steadfastly resisted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). In July 2010, it barred any future Health Insurance Exchange from offering policies that would cover abortion, even via an optional rider. In the fall of 2012, the voters prohibited the establishment of a state-based Exchange without explicit approval of the legislature or of the people by referendum. The law barred state agencies and employees from providing assistance to any federally managed Exchange. In July 2013, the legislature passed (and Governor Nixon signed) a law requiring Navigators, trained individuals who assist consumers with enrollment through the Health Insurance Exchange, to be licensed. The law also prohibited Navigators from advising on the advantages or disadvantages of a particular policy without an insurance license.

Nixon and the legislature have never reached agreement to expand Medicaid under the ACA. Even a private option waiver like Arkansas’ was unacceptable to the Republican  majority.

Medicaid Enrollment

Seventeen of the 26 states that did not expand Medicaid by March 31, 2014 saw increases in enrollment as eligible individuals came “out of the woodwork.” According to CMS’ enrollment figures and an analysis by Avalere Health, Missouri’s Medicaid enrollment has declined, however, along with six other states. CMS and Avalere compared Medicaid enrollment during the three months preceding open enrollment, i.e., July through September 2013, to enrollment at the end of each month in 2014. Enrollment dropped from  an average of 863,417  to 829,585 in March 2014.  According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, state officials attribute the drop to “people getting jobs” in an improved economy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, about 200,362 individuals, 6.6 percent of Missouri’s labor force, were unemployed in August 2013; the preliminary numbers for March 2014 were 204,209 unemployed individuals, about 6.6 percent of the state’s work force.

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Becomes Law

A law allowing limited use of a special strain of marijuana prescribed to treat epileptic seizures and other diseases was signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott on Monday. The measure passed with bipartisan support after parents seeking access to a form of marijuana named “Charlotte’s Web” appealed to state lawmakers.

“As a father and grandfather, you never want to see kids suffer,” Scott, a Republican, said in a statement. “I am proud to stand today with families who deserve the ability to provide their children with the best treatment available.”

The law, entitled the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014,” puts significant constraints on marijuana sales, but allows use of the drug for people suffering from epilepsy, cancer, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The bill also appropriates $1 million for research in medical uses of marijuana.

The Charlotte’s Web substance made legal under this bill is not for smoking and is specially cultivated to be very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the element that creates the “high.” The drug was named after a girl whose epileptic seizures have shown a response to the drug. Production of this substance is limited to a few growers at nurseries that have been in business for 30 years or longer. After Jan. 1, 2015, doctors will be allowed to prescribe low-THC marijuana treatment for state residents with epilepsy, cancer, and afflictions causing “seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms.”

Senate bills 1030 and 1700, also nicknamed the “Charlotte’s Web bill” were both signed. The law is unrelated to a more expansive medical marijuana referendum, Amendment 2, which was up for vote in November. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have some form of laws that permit use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, although they vary widely, according to a Florida legislative analysis. Access in Florida will be more limited than in states such as Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana has been legalized.

San Francisco Becomes Newest Jurisdiction to Enroll Inmates in Medicaid

Two months ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a three year pilot program that would enroll prison and jail inmates in Medicaid before their release and that would subsequently track the usage, employment, and recidivism data for those enrolled individuals after release. Even before that announcement, many jurisdictions, both on the state and local level, had begun to help inmates sign up for the program in anticipation of their release. Recently, San Francisco joined the ranks of these jurisdictions and passed legislation allowing the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office to assist the incarcerated in enrolling in health insurance available under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148).

DOJ Reentry Project

According to statistics cited by the DOJ Associate Attorney General Tony West , more than 90 percent of the individuals that have some kind of involvement with the criminal justice system. Moreover, inmates tend to experience higher rates of certain conditions than the rest of the population. For instances, incarcerated individuals suffer from mental illness at a rate that is three times higher than the outside population and suffer from substance abuse issues at a rate that is four times higher than the rest of the non-incarcerated population. In addition to helping enroll inmates in health insurance coverage, the DOJ also announced that it would be accepting proposals from state and local governments to “maximize Medicaid and marketplace resources on behalf of justice-involved individuals.”

San Francisco Bill

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved Assembly Bill 720, which was signed by the Governor back in 2013. The Bill provides that “an inmate’s ineligibility while in custody does not preclude processing an application for a health insurance program by or on the behalf of the inmate during incarceration.” Similar to the DOJ announcement, the press release announcing the Sheriff’s pursuance of this legislation also cited that “the majority of inmates have no health insurance or the resources to pay for medical care upon release, yet a significant proportion of them suffer from chronic health problems including mental illness and addiction disorders.” According to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office, the medical cost saving that will be realized once each inmate is enrolled and released from custody is $2,500 per person annually.

Other Efforts

As the ACA roll-out began in the beginning of this year, states and localities were reported to have enacted the same practices that had recently been adopted by San Francisco. In particular, one source described the recent practice of Cook County, Illinois, stating that “[b]eing arrested in Chicago for say, drug possession or assault gets you sent to the Cook County Jail to be fingerprinted, photographed and X-rayed. You’ll also get help applying for health insurance.” The same source noted that, at the time of publication, at least six states and counties across the country had adopted similar practices. Interestingly, according to that article, this practice does not only have the effect of insuring a large group of previously uninsured, but it also “would shift to the federal government some of the more than $6.5 billion in annual state costs for treating prisoners.” Not surprisingly, Vermont, which has been a proponent of not only expanding Medicaid but other unique extensions on health care coverage under the ACA, has also approved legislation that specifically provide for assistance to inmates in obtaining health care coverage “and connecting them with chronic disease management, mental health and substance abuse services.

Expert opinions, revealed in previous commentary, expressed the idea that the ACA could affect positive changes in health care for inmates and those involved in the criminal justice system. While changes for the currently incarcerated are yet to be seen, the act of enrolling individuals in anticipation of release is not only gaining momentum but may have the effect of shifting financial burdens and reducing recidivism rates.