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New York judge strikes three portions of DOL regulations re FFCRA leave

A New York federal trial court has struck three portions of the DOL regulations implementing the FFCRA’s emergency paid sick leave. The State of New York challenged and the trial court struck these three portions of the DOL regulations:

  1. A requirement that emergency paid sick leave is available only if the employer has work available;
  2. An exclusion for employees working for a health care provider (note: this portion of the order is particularly unclear as it may have only struck the DOL’s definition of a “health care provider” without providing an explanation of how that phrase should be interpreted);
  3. A requirement that intermittent emergency paid sick leave be made available only with the employer’s consent (again this portion of the order is also unclear, in that the court clearly struck the requirement for employer consent, but apparently did not require intermittent leave be provided if the employer does not have work to provide).

The ruling is far from clear. Its impact is even less clear. It is not clear if the ruling has any impact outside of New York. New York did not request and the judge did not issue a nationwide injunction; therefore, technically the ruling has no impact outside New York. Nor is it clear if the DOL will challenge the ruling, including by appeal. It is not clear if judges outside New York (or appellate judges if this ruling is appealed) will find the trial court’s order persuasive.

Employers are reminded that a growing number of state and local jurisdictions are adopting their own requirements along these lines. Colorado employers in particular are reminded they must comply not only with the federal FFCRA’s requirements along these lines but also the new state law requirements.

Employers in New York City face potential for greater punitive damages

The New York Court of Appeals ruled in Chauca v. Abraham that employers face greater exposure for punitive damages under New York City’s anti-discrimination laws than under the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title VII.

The Court observed that existing law mandates that New York City’s law be “as a floor below which the City’s Human Rights Law cannot fall, rather than a ceiling above which the local law cannot rise.”

The Court then noted that New York City’s law is worded differently and, as such, it “requires neither a showing of malice or awareness of the violation of a protected right.” This means a lower standard than Title VII. However, the Court cautioned the standard should not be so low that punitive damages are available whenever a violation is proven warranting compensatory damages.

Punitive damages represent punishment for wrongful conduct that goes beyond mere negligence and are warranted only where aggravating factors demonstrate an additional level of wrongful conduct (see Home Ins. Co., 75 NY2d at 203-204 ). Accordingly, there must be some heightened standard for such an award.

As a middle ground, the Court articulated a new standard for punitive damages under New York City’s law: The plaintiff must prove “the wrongdoer has engaged in discrimination with wilful or wanton negligence, or recklessness, or a ‘conscious disregard of the rights of others or conduct so reckless as to amount to such disregard.'”

A dissenter disagreed arguing the majority had set the bar too low. The dissenter would have allowed punitive damages “whenever liability is proved, unless an employer has adopted and fully implemented the antidiscrimination programs, policies, and procedures promulgated by the Commission on Human Rights, as an augmentation to compensatory damages, and would answer the certified question accordingly.”

Source: https://www.bloomberglaw.com/document/X1OFI9SU0000N?