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An Overview of the Recent New York Federal Court Decision and its Potential Impact Moving Forward

By: Kevin Brady, Esq.

In April of this year, following the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the State of New York sued the Department of Labor (DOL), claiming that several provisions of the FFCRA exceeded the DOL’s authority under the statute.

On August 3rd, the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York issued an opinion, siding with the State of New York and invalidating several provisions of the FFCRA. Specifically, the court invalidated the following regulations:

  1. The “work-availability” requirement

Under the FFCRA regulations, individuals are not eligible for Emergency Family Medical Leave or Emergency Paid Leave if their employer does not actually have work for the individual to do. The court concluded that the DOL failed to properly explain this additional requirement, and invalidated the regulation.

  1. Employer approval of intermittent leave

Under the FFCRA regulations, employees are required to have approval from their employer in order to take leave under the FFCRA intermittently. The court opined that this was not permissible and vacated the regulation.

  1. Requirement to provide documentation of leave in advance

Employees are required to provide documentation regarding the reason for leave and the requested duration of leave, prior to taking leave under the FFCRA. The court reasoned that this regulation is inconsistent with the statute and struck the regulation down.

  1. The DOL’s definition of “health care provider”

Under the regulations, employers are permitted to exclude health care providers from the leave entitlements granted under the FFCRA. The DOL’s definition of the term “health care provider” is broad and can be interpreted to include individuals who are only tangentially related to actually providing health care. The court reasoned that the exclusion of leave entitlement for health care providers is intended to apply only to those individuals who are capable of providing healthcare services.

Potential Impact

While the court’s ruling may ultimately have a significant impact nationwide, it appears that (at least for the time being) the application of the ruling will be confined to employers in the state of New York, as the court did not specifically address whether the ruling would apply nationally. At this point, the ball is in the DOL’s court. If the DOL’s complies with the ruling, we are likely to see significant changes to the FFCRA regulations and guidance. These changes are important and may drastically increase the rights of employees looking to take leave. In the alternative, the DOL may appeal the ruling, in which case the impact may be in limbo for some time. In the meantime, employers should review their current policies and their administration of FFCRA, as well as keep their eye out for the DOL’s next steps to ensure compliance with the FFCRA leave provisions.