New York’s Paid Family Leave Law Provides Paid Leave to Families

On July 20, 2017, the New York Workers Compensation Board adopted the final regulation for implementation of the New York Paid Family Leave Law (NYPFLL). This is significant because the federal counterpart, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), does not obligate an employer to provide paid leave. In order to qualify to take paid leave in New York, an employee must be employed by a covered employer at the time they apply for the PFL. Additionally, if the employee works at least 20 or more hours per week, they become eligible after 26 weeks of employment. Alternatively, if an employee works less than 20 hours per week, they become eligible after 175 days worked.

An employee will be permitted to use paid leave if they are a new parent; have a serious health condition; or is called to active military duty. A serious health condition includes illness, injury, impairment, or mental condition.

An employee can apply for paid leave and once effective, the length of the maximum available leave varies based on the year. Each January 1 from now until 2021, the percentage of payment required to be paid to an employee for paid family leave will increase based on what the employee receives weekly. This January the PFL requires an employee to be given 8 weeks of paid leave at 50% of the employee’s weekly wage or the state average weekly wage, whichever is less. By 2021, the paid leave rate will increase to 12 weeks paid at 67% of the employee’s weekly wage or the state average weekly wage, whichever is less.

For more information on how on how an employee can claim Paid Family Leave and how an employer can prepare for the new regulation, call Gilbert Law Group at 631-630-0100.

Submitted by: Alexander Gilbert

Uber Misclassification? Employee or Independent Contractor?

In July 2015, the Department of Labor issued guidelines regarding the “misclassification” of workers. It argued that any worker who is “economically dependent” on the employer should be considered an employee. A worker who is involved in a business independently however, on behalf of himself or herself should be regarded as an independent contractor. Multiple factors are considered in determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. This test is sometimes referred to as the “economic realities test.”

The classification of a worker as either an employee or independent contractor is significant for a company and its workers. The rationale behind such classification is that employees should be better protected and entitled to benefits as they are financially and professionally dependent on their employer. Independent contractors, however, are seen as having their own business and thus cannot claim several benefits from the business for which they are providing services including, but not limited to, minimum wage, overtime compensation, family and medical leave, unemployment insurance, and protections ensuring a safe workplace. As such, whether a business classifies its staff as employees or independent contractors will inevitably have major implications as it relates to overhead, payroll, profit margins, and taxes.

This classification again became newsworthy for Uber drivers when Uber, an on-demand car service, was confronted with the issue of whether its drivers should be considered independent contractors or employees. It is Uber’s longstanding practice of classifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Now the California Labor Commissioner, presented with this specific question, has opposed, in its interpretation of law, Uber’s basic and longstanding practice.

On September 16, 2014, an Uber driver named Barbara Ann Berwick filed a wage complaint with the California Labor Commissioner. Berwick sought, among other things, reimbursement for business expenses, such as gas and bridge tolls. Uber argued that since Berwick was not an employee, she could not be compensated for such expenses. In June 2015, the California Labor Commissioner argued in favor of the driver. It disagreed with Uber and awarded Berwick over $4,000 in business expenses and interest. In arriving at its decision, the Labor Commissioner applied the “economic realities” test adopted by the California Supreme Court in S. G. Borello& Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations. Variations of this “economic realities” test are applied throughout the country, including New York. Based on this multifactor test, the Labor Commissioner held that Berwick was in fact an employee. Uber lost the case but has appealed the Commissioner’s decision.

            If you have questions regarding the classification of employees, independent contractors, and the implications of either classification, or need advice regarding labor and employment law, please call Gilbert Law Group at 631.630.0100.

Contributed by Sakine Oezcan

Under ERISA, Retiree Healthcare Coverage No Longer Guaranteed Unless Contract Is Clear

Contributed by Jonathan Sobel

On January 26, 2015, the Supreme Court released a decision altering the distribution of union retiree healthcare benefits. In M & G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, the Court, citing ERISA as the controlling law, ruled that ordinary contract principles will be used by courts in determining whether retiree healthcare coverage under a plan for retired workers was meant to be vested for life. This rule invalidated an earlier judicial presumption, known as the Yard-Man presumption, stating that union health benefits would be presumed to be perpetual unless there was specific language stating the contrary in either a plan document or a collective bargaining agreement.

In this case, the employer M & G Polymers had entered into a pension and insurance agreement with the union representing its employees at a plant in West Virginia. In the agreement was a provision stating that the employer would contribute to the healthcare benefits of employees who retired after a certain date and had pension eligibility, with no cost to the employees, for a three-year term. After the agreement had expired, the employer announced that retirees would be required to contribute to the cost of their healthcare. The retirees then filed a lawsuit, alleging that the employer had breached the agreement and violated the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”).

The Court noted that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) governs the rules for interpreting pension plans and welfare benefits plans, as applicable in this case. Under ERISA, a welfare benefits plan must be “established and maintained pursuant to a written instrument,” but “[e]mployers or other plan sponsors are generally free under ERISA, for any reason at any time, to adopt, modify, or terminate welfare plans.” In doing so, the Court essentially has given employers carte blanche discretion to change healthcare coverage for its retired employees as it sees fit.