No End in Sight for New COVID-19 Leaves: How to Stay Compliant
Director of Compliance
With the COVID-19 pandemic well into its second year, many fatigued employers in the United States and Canada are hoping for an end, or at least a slow-down, to the ever-increasing legal obligations owed to employees due to the pandemic. But no such luck for employers, at least when it comes to emergency leave laws. COVID-19 has temporarily—but significantly—expanded leave entitlements for workers, and there appears to be no end in sight to this expansion.
Here is a partial list of recently enacted or modified state, local, and provincial COVID-19 leave laws that employers in the United States and Canada should know about to remain compliant:
State of California
California Senate Bill 95, signed by Governor Newsom on March 19, 2021, resurrected the statewide COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (SPSL) that expired on December 31, 2020. The new SPSL covers employers in California with more than 25 employees, applies retroactively to January 1, 2021, and remains in effect until September 30, 2021 (unless extended again). All employees unable to work or telework due to any of seven COVID-19 qualifying reasons—including time off to obtain a vaccination—are eligible for the leave. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of SPSL, and part-time employees are entitled to a pro-rata amount of leave based on their schedule and length of employment.
On March 29, 2021, Philadelphia amended and expanded its Public Health Emergency Leave requiring employers with 50 or more employees to grant up to 80 hours of paid leave to employees for reasons related to COVID-19. The ordinance applies to full-time and part-time employees who have worked for their employer for at least 90 days, but does not cover temporary, seasonal, federal, or state workers. To be eligible for the leave, employees must also work in Philadelphia, be teleworking but normally work in Philadelphia, or work for an employer in multiple locations with over 51% of work time in the city. The leave requirements will remain in effect until the expiration of the statewide public health emergency declaration related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State of New York
Effective March 12, 2021 through December 31, 2022 employers in New York state must grant all public and private employees with up to four hours of paid leave for each instance they receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The leave, however, cannot be used to attend a family member’s injection. Employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) may receive more leave time as the CBA allows, or the paid vaccine leave may be waived entirely if the CBA explicitly provides for a waiver. The new law does not prohibit employers from requiring notice before leave is taken or proof of vaccination when the employee returns.
Los Angeles County
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors extended and expanded the Los Angeles County COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Ordinance retroactive to January 1, 2021. The new ordinance applies to all private employers within the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, as opposed to the original ordinance which applied only to employers with 500 or more employees nationally. Under the new ordinance, employers must grant up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave for several reasons related to COVID-19, provided the employee did not previously exhaust available leave under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act or the original Los Angeles County Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. The new law will remain in effect until two calendar weeks after the expiration of the COVID-19 local emergency.
On April 21, 2021, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting employers from terminating, disciplining, or taking any adverse action against a worker (including independent contractors) for taking time off to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, employers cannot require workers to get the vaccine outside of work hours. Employers requiring workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must provide up to four hours of leave per dose at their regular rate of pay. If an employer does not require workers to get vaccinated, they must allow those with accrued paid sick leave to use that leave to receive the vaccine.
On March 18, 2021, Saskatchewan became the first Canadian jurisdiction to implement a paid leave allowing employees to take time off to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Employees are entitled to three consecutive hours of leave during work hours to receive a vaccination and may take more than three consecutive hours of leave if the employer determines the circumstances warrant it.
Effective April 21, 2021, the Alberta Employment Standards Code was amended to provide employees with up to three hours of paid leave for each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The leave applies to full-time and part-time employees no matter how long they have been employed.
On April 1, 2021 the British Columbia government announced changes to the COVID-19 leave provisions in its Employment Standards Act to enable full-time and part-time employees to take unpaid leave to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or to accompany dependent family members to vaccinations. A new bill that received Royal Assent on April 27, however, expanded the British Columbia Employment Standards Act to provide workers with up to three hours of paid leave to obtain each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The effective date of the new paid vaccine leave is retroactive to April 19, 2021.
On April 29, 2021, the Ontario Employment Standards Act was amended to require employers to grant employees up to three days of paid leave for reasons related to COVID-19. Employers must pay employees up to $200 a day and the three days of leave do not have to be consecutive. Paid leave is available for reasons such as attending a COVID-19 test; staying home awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test; being sick with COVID-19; getting a COVID-19 vaccination or experiencing vaccination side effects; being advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19 by an employer, medical practitioner, or other authority; or caring for a dependent who is sick, symptomatic, or self-isolating with COVID-19. The leave is in effect from April 19, 2021 through September 25, 2021, unless extended.
Employers Should Be on the Lookout
These are only some of the new COVID-19 leave laws recently passed in the United States and Canada with more likely to follow as COVID-19 cases continue to spike in certain places. In early April 2021 the total number of COVID-19-related lawsuits filed in U.S. courts soared passed 2,000, proving that employee entitlements due to the pandemic are easily mishandled without thoughtful consideration. Employers should be on a daily lookout for new or amended COVID-19 legal obligations as their financial well-being, and employee safety, may depend on it.
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