New York Provides Paid Leave for Workers To Get COVID-19 Vaccine, but Might Leave Out Workers With Caregiver Responsibilities

New York City employment discrimination lawyers can draw from a wide range of statutes to assist workers who have experienced adverse actions by their employers in violation of the law. The city’s antidiscrimination law is one of the only ones in the country to protect employees with caregiving responsibilities for family members or others. The COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, has shown some gaps in the law’s coverage. A new state law provides paid leave for workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This new law does not specifically cover caregivers who may need to take time off from work to accompany a person under their care while they get the vaccine. It is possible, however, that city law might protect an employee with this sort of responsibility.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits discrimination based on “caregiver status.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). A caregiver has responsibility for a minor child or a “care recipient.” The latter term refers to an individual who:
1. Resides in the caregiver’s household or is a “covered relative” of the caregiver; and
2. Depends on the caregiver “for medical care or to meet the needs of daily living.” Id. at § 8-102.

The term “covered relative” includes close relatives like minor or adult children, spouses and domestic partners, parents, grandparents, and siblings. The statute allows the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to add other “familial relationships” to the definition of “covered relative.” So far, the CHR has not done so. It currently has no rules specifically interpreting the NYCHRL’s provisions on caregiver discrimination.

City law would prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee or job applicant solely because they have responsibility to care for one or more minor children, a disabled or chronically ill relative, or a person living in their home who requires ongoing care, regardless of familial relationship. Discrimination might include refusing to hire someone, terminating someone, denying them a promotion or other opportunities, or subjecting them to workplace harassment because of their caregiver responsibilities. The NYCHRL does not, however, specifically require employers to make reasonable accommodations for caregivers. This may be where COVID-19 vaccinations become an issue.

Vaccines for COVID-19 first became available to the public in December 2020, with each state establishing its own distribution plan. In New York, the first group eligible to receive the vaccine includes New York residents who are sixty or older, people with certain medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, and people in various essential jobs. Absent from the list of people who get first priority for the vaccine are family caregivers, although the city has stated its intention to “vaccinat[e] homebound older adults where they live.”

The governor signed Bill S2588A/A3354B into law on March 12, 2021. The new law provides paid leave for up to four hours to receive the vaccine, unless a collective bargaining agreement allows more time. It only addresses employees taking leave to get the vaccine for themselves, not to assist a care recipient who is eligible for the vaccine but needs help to get it. This is where the NYCHRL might provide protection if an employer takes adverse action against a caregiver.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job seekers, representing them in claims of caregiver discrimination and other violations of city, state, and federal law. Please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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