As an employer, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the laws that govern employee leave, specifically those related to family and medical situations. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) at both the federal and New York State levels offers protections and obligations that affect how you manage your staff. Keep in mind that employers must comply with both the federal and State FMLA laws. Generally, complying with the New York State law will also suffice for compliance with the federal law.
What Are the Differences Between the New York State and Federal FMLA When It Comes to Benefits?
The federal FMLA provides significantly fewer benefits to employees than does New York State. Under the federal FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period for certain family and medical reasons. Eligibility is generally determined by several criteria: your organization must have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, and the employee must have worked for you for at least 12 months and completed 1,250 hours of work prior to the leave. The qualifying reasons for taking leave include personal or family health conditions, the birth or care of a newborn, adoption, or placing a child in foster care. An important aspect of this law is job protection—employees are entitled to return to the same or an equivalent job position after their leave. Additionally, FMLA requires that an employee’s health benefits be maintained during their leave.
In New York State, while the foundational principles are similar to the federal FMLA, there are distinct variations that can provide employees with broader protections under certain circumstances. For instance, New York’s FMLA laws may cover smaller employers or offer a longer duration of leave compared to the federal requirements. The state law also encompasses additional reasons for leave, such as “safe leave,” which can be used during instances of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.
What About Job Protection and Health Benefits?
The job protection and health benefits under New York State law are similar to or enhanced compared to the protections under federal law. However, state provisions could impose more rigorous requirements for maintaining benefits during leave, or provide even stronger job protection measures than federal law.
As an employer, it’s critical to note these key differences. The state law may have more inclusive eligibility criteria, offer greater length and types of protected leave, and have specific provisions for continued health benefits and job protection that go beyond federal law. It’s also worth noting that when federal and New York State FMLA laws overlap, you must navigate the concurrent leave in a manner that adheres to both sets of laws.
Let’s Dive Deeper Into the Weeds of Employee Sick Leave
Did you know that employees accrue sick leave at a rate of one hour for every thirty hours worked, and can use this leave for a variety of reasons, including mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition, as well as for reasons related to domestic violence, family offense, sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking?
Under Section 204 of the New York Workers’ Compensation Law, employees are also entitled to disability and family leave benefits. Employees are entitled to 67% of their average weekly wage, up to a cap of 67% of the current New York State Average Weekly Wage of $1,718.15. The maximum weekly benefit for 2024 is capped at $1,151.16.
Can a NY State Employer Require Their Employee to Use Accrued Sick Leave?
Unfortunately, New York’s FMLA does not specifically address whether an employer can require an employee to use accrued paid leave time. What the statute does state is that employers are not required to provide additional sick leave if they already have a policy that meets or exceeds the requirements of the law, which suggests that employers have some discretion in how they handle accrued leave.
The federal FMLA does permit employers to require employees to exhaust their accrued sick time, but FMLA protections are mandatory even if the employee has not used all accrued paid leave available. As one court pointed out, “the law does not allow employers to evade the FMLA by providing their employees with [lesser] paid sick leave benefits.”
The New York State FMLA differs from the federal FMLA in a few key ways. First, the eligibility requirements are different. Under New York law, employees are eligible for disability benefits after four consecutive weeks of employment, and for family leave benefits after twenty-six consecutive weeks of employment. Under the federal FMLA, employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for the employer for at least twelve months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous twelve-month period, a significant increase from State law. Second, the duration and amount of benefits differs. Under the federal FMLA, employees are entitled to up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, while under the state law, employees are entitled to up to twelve weeks of paid leave. Finally, the state law requires employers to provide notice to employees when leave is designated as FMLA leave, and to provide the employee with the notice required under federal regulations.
Compliance with these laws is not just about avoiding legal pitfalls; it’s about understanding and upholding the rights of your employees.
What to Know to Ensure You Are Meeting the FMLA Guidelines
To ensure you’re meeting your obligations, you’ll want to maintain proper records, provide necessary notifications, and continue health benefits as required. Employees are also protected from retaliation for taking leave, emphasizing the importance of respecting their legal entitlements.
In conclusion, familiarizing yourself with both federal and state FMLA laws is a must. While federal law provides the baseline for employee leave, New York State law can offer more generous benefits. Therefore, it’s advisable to regularly review your policies, update your employee handbooks, and conduct compliance checks to ensure adherence to both sets of regulations.
*Remember, this article is intended as an overview and should not replace legal advice. For detailed and specific guidance, consulting with an attorney or your local labor department is recommended. Additional resources, including relevant contact information, is available here.
Thank you for taking the time to review this important information. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need further clarification or assistance in navigating FMLA compliance.