New COVID-19 vaccine paid time off requirement for New York employers

New York employers should be aware of a recently enacted New York State law that entitles employees to paid time off from work to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

COVID-19 vaccine

Under this new law, New York employers must grant each employee a sufficient period of time, not to exceed four hours per vaccine injection, to take leave for purposes of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine.

For employees who will receive a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, this means that such employees will be entitled to up to eight hours of paid leave over the course of the two injections. If an employee is entitled to a greater number of hours of leave pursuant to a collectively bargained agreement or the employer’s policy, the employee will still be entitled to the greater amount of leave time.

The time off for COVID-19 vaccinations must be paid at the employee’s regular rate of pay, and may not be charged against any other leave to which the employee is otherwise entitled (including without limitation sick leave required by New York State law). Employers may not discriminate or retaliate against employees for requesting or obtaining a leave of absence to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or for exercising the right to paid leave under this new law. This new law has potential carveouts for employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

This new law became effective on March 12, 2021 and is scheduled to automatically sunset on December 31, 2022.

New York State has issued guidance on this new law in the form of FAQs, which clarify that the paid leave entitlement under this new law is available only to the employee for receipt of his or her own COVID-19 vaccine, and not to assist a relative or another person in obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine. The guidance also clarifies that this new law does not prevent employers from requiring employees to provide notice before taking this paid leave or from requiring proof of vaccination (though employers are encouraged to consider any applicable confidentiality requirements before requesting proof of vaccination). The law does not create any retroactive benefit rights and only applies to employees taking time off from work to obtain COVID-19 vaccines on or after March 12, 2021; however, nothing prevents employers from voluntarily providing employees with such benefits retroactively.

COVID-19 vaccine in New York

New York employers should communicate the availability of this paid leave to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations to their employees, and make sure that supervisors and managers are aware of this new law and its anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation requirements. While this new law does not have a specific requirement that its leave requirements be set forth in a written policy, as a best practice, New York employers should review and update their leave policies to reflect this new leave entitlement. Please contact us if you have any questions or need assistance with compliance with this new law.