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New York employers must contend with an assortment of leave laws in addition to those required by the federal FMLA and the ADA’s reasonable accommodations requirements for employees with disabilities.

Adoption leave

New York has no equivalent to the federal FMLA, which allows up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. But under state law, employers that offer child-care leave for the birth of a child must provide equivalent time off for adoptive parents.

The adoption-leave discrimination law applies only to adoptions of children younger than mandatory school age and disabled children under age 18.

Make sure your leave policies don’t discriminate against adoptive parents. Allow them leave on the same terms as other new parents. So, for example, if your organization gives new parents 90 days’ leave, paid or unpaid, adoptive parents must receive the same benefit.

Caution: Adoptive parents can sue you if they feel you’ve denied them the same leave allowed for natural parents. Remedies include time off, damages and attorneys’ fees.

Voting leave

New York employers must allow employees the opportunity to vote if their work schedules otherwise make it impossible to do so. Under state law, any registered voter who doesn’t have two consecutive hours free to go to the polls on Election Day must receive two hours’ time off during the workday.

An employer can’t deduct that time from wages otherwise due or punish employees for taking voting leave. But you do have the right to designate what time on Election Day employees may take the leave.

Tip: Consider including a voting-leave provision in your company handbook. You can specify that employees must show proof of voter registration, and you can set the preferred time for the leave. In some cases, that may mean asking employees to vote before work and come in late, take an extended lunch or leave work early to go to the polls.

Jury and witness leave

In New York, it’s illegal for employers to punish employees who are called for jury duty, but you’re entitled to prior notice of their need for the leave.

You needn’t pay employees on jury duty with one exception: Employers that have more than 10 employees must not deduct the first $40 of pay each day for the first three days of jury service.

When employees have to attend court for reasons other than jury duty, you must allow them the time off and can’t punish them for it. Authorized absences include:

  • Attending court when the employee is the victim of a crime or is next of kin of a relative killed during a crime.
  • Being subpoenaed as a witness in any criminal case.
  • Consulting with the district attorney.
  • Attending family court under some circumstances, including applying for a protection-from-abuse order or enforcing that order if the employee is the victim of domestic abuse.

Although you’re entitled to prior notice, the law is silent on how early an employee must inform you. So, it’s a good idea to include jury and witness leave in your leave policies to clarify when and how employees should give notice.

Caution: Employers that punish workers for serving on a jury may find themselves hauled before the court. Violators can be held in criminal contempt. And don’t even think about punishing an employee who takes witness leave: That’s a criminal misdemeanor, which could mean jail time.  

Excerpted from New York's 10 Most Critical Employment Laws, a special bonus report available to subscribers of HR Specialist: New York Employment Law.


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