Recently, in response to a storm that was expected to bring two to three feet of snow overnight, Mayor de Blasio declared a state of emergency for the City of New York. That announcement was the first issued by the City under a new State-wide Act (“the Act”), which requires employers to provide leave to workers who volunteer as emergency responders. To help employers maintain compliance, this article discuses which employees are covered by the Act, as well as how some employers may be eligible to avoid the obligation to grant leave.
According to the Act, volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance team members may request, and employers must grant, leave during declared states of emergency. The leave may be unpaid, or any accrued paid time off may be used at the employee’s election. The Act also requires that employees provide written notice of their volunteer status prior to the state of emergency. In the absence of such documentation, however, employers must still grant leave if the employee’s role as a volunteer firefighter or ambulance team member directly relates to the emergency. When employees return to work, employers may request a notarized statement from the head of the agency for which the employee volunteered, detailing the time during which the employee responded to the emergency.
Waiver of Leave Requirements
An employer may be exempted from granting leave to its qualified employees if it can demonstrate that granting such leave would create an undue hardship. Factors to weigh in this consideration include 1) total cost to the employer, including measurable diminishment of productivity, and the difficulty of finding or transferring temporary replacements; 2) the number and percentage of workers who request leave under the Act from a single employer; and 3) logistical concerns (e.g. geographic distance between facilities for multi-branch employers).
Although emergencies occur infrequently, knowing what the Act requires can help employers be prepared. Part of that preparation can include drafting workplace policies that establish that volunteer emergency responders receive preference in leave requests during emergencies.
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