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A Complete Guide to New York State Employee Benefits During COVID-19

Gusto Editors  
Guide to New York State Employee Benefits During COVID-19 - Gusto

The Empire State is a place for business. Both in and out of its namesake city, businesses in New York employ nearly 10 million people. These employees are entitled to benefits from their employers, as outlined by state and federal guidelines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the employment and benefits landscape radically. Even though many employers have been forced to temporarily suspend operations and furlough or lay off staff, policymakers in New York have expanded or launched benefits programs to help support those hurt by the economic slowdown. 

To help make things easier, this guide offers a look at some of the major employee benefits requirements under New York State law, as well as how they have been impacted by COVID-19.

New York State unemployment compensation

General guideline

In New York State, all temporary, part-time, and full-time employees are covered under the unemployment insurance assistance program. Unemployment insurance offers temporary income to eligible workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. To claim these benefits, New Yorkers must meet these eligibility requirements:

New York State unemployment insurance benefits are funded by employers through state employment taxes. Employers are not permitted under state law to collect contributions to the system from their employees to subsidize their own tax liability. However, in order for workers to qualify for unemployment, they must have earned enough wages in covered employment first. Your wages can be calculated using New York’s base pay formula or an alternate version. Review the New York State Department of Labor’s website for more information.

To file an unemployment claim in New York State, follow these steps:

  • Create an NY.gov ID at this link.
  • Sign in to your NY.gov ID account.
  • Fill out the application for unemployment benefits. You’ll need your Social Security number, government-issued ID, contact information for all employers for the past 18 months, and your bank information if you elect to receive benefits via direct deposit.
  • Submit your application.

If approved by the Department of Labor, you will have to claim benefits each week that you remain unemployed. 

How has unemployment changed in New York due to COVID-19?

For those who have lost employment due to closures related to the coronavirus, under the state’s PAUSE Act, New York State is waiving the seven-day waiting period typically instituted between application submission and collection of benefits. 

Under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) clause of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability (CARES) Act, states have the option of extending unemployment compensation to independent contractors. New York State took advantage of the opportunity and now permits self-employed individuals to file for unemployment insurance benefits, which they are typically unable to do under average circumstances. 

Employers who must close and lay off employees during the coronavirus pandemic should understand their obligations under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act of 1988. That law requires employers to provide employees with 60 calendar days’ advance notice of any workplace closings or mass layoffs that will last more than six months. 

While it remains unclear how long the coronavirus pandemic and associated social distancing measures will last, employers who plan to lay off at least 50 full-time employees or one-third of their workforce should first consult an attorney about their obligations under the law. 

Vacation and time off in New York

General guideline

In New York, employers have no obligation to pay for “time not worked” unless they have established a specific, written policy stating otherwise. Time not worked includes holidays, sick time, and vacation time.

However, New York is one of 27 states that require employers to pay for accrued but unused vacation time if there is a paid leave policy in place. So if an employee has earned vacation time and the employer does not maintain a written forfeit policy, the employer is obligated under state law to pay the employee for their accrued time. Consult with an attorney or HR professional if you do not want to pay for accrued time in this circumstance.

Has the coronavirus pandemic affected New York’s vacation and time off laws?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo established new job protection and financial compensation guidelines that alter New York’s standard paid leave arrangements. Some employers in New York, for example, are now required to provide at least five days of job-protected, paid sick leave.

The leave is available to employees who are under a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine—or who have a minor dependent who is under quarantine—due to COVID-19. In addition, New York’s paid family leave law was expanded to include employees subject to a quarantine order or who must provide care to a minor dependent under quarantine.

Health benefits in New York

General guideline

In New York, there is no state law that requires employers to offer health insurance to their employees. However, when employers voluntarily extend group health care to their employees, state law does require that the plans cover certain “mandated benefits.” These include emergency services, diabetic equipment, mammography screening, and prostate cancer screening. For a full list of mandated benefits, visit the state Department of Financial Services website. This includes small employers utilizing plans offered by insurance carriers.

New York employers covered under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) must extend health insurance to employees under the clause known as “employer shared responsibility.” That means any employer with 50 or more full-time employees (called an “applicable large employer” or ALE) must provide affordable minimum essential coverage to full-time employees and their dependents. 

How have health benefits in New York changed due to COVID-19?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, employees and employers experiencing financial hardship were able to defer their health insurance premium payments until June 1, 2020. In addition, the state Department of Health required insurance companies to waive co-pays for telehealth visits in an attempt to encourage New Yorkers to seek remote medical examination rather than visiting a doctor’s office or hospital.

Disability benefits in New York State

General guideline

New York State is one of the few states that requires employers to extend short-term disability benefits to employees for injuries or illnesses that occur outside the workplace. Short-term disability insurance in New York provides weekly payments of up to 50% of your weekly wages for the last eight weeks worked, up to the maximum benefit of $170 per week. Disability insurance benefits are paid for up to 26 weeks in a 52-week period. Employees are not eligible to collect disability benefits and paid family leave at the same time, Also note that you must file a disability claim within 30 days of the injury or illness.

Disability insurance costs can be deducted from employee paychecks. These contributions can equal 0.5% of the worker’s weekly wages, up to a maximum of $0.60 per week.  

Long-term disability benefits are available for workers who expect to be out of work longer than 26 weeks or who have a condition that is considered terminal. This benefit is available through the state Office of Labor Relations for covered employees. Under long-term disability, employees can receive up to 66.6% of their monthly earnings, depending on the nature of their disability. 

Have disability benefits expanded in New York State due to COVID-19?

Due to COVID-19, New York State expanded disability benefits to provide additional salary continuation to some employees. Those who work for small or medium-sized businesses can use a combination of disability benefits and paid sick leave if they are required to quarantine. Visit the New York Paid Family Leave website for more information.

Workers’ Compensation in New York State

General guideline

Workers’ Compensation in New York State is an insurance fund paid for by employers. It provides payments and medical care for employees who are disabled, injured, or ill due to work-related incidents.

State law requires employers to maintain workers’ compensation coverage for both part-time and full-time employees. Failure to extend workers’ compensation insurance to employees could leave an employer personally liable for penalties of $2,000 for every 10-day period of non-compliance. 

Workers’ compensation in New York State under COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board made several changes to the system. These changes include a relaxation of the 90-day requirement for medical evidence of ongoing disability, as well as extensions on certain deadlines. 

Additionally, Executive Order 202.13 prohibits insurance carriers from canceling, non-renewing, or conditionally renewing insurance policies for both individuals and small businesses when financial hardship is caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Child care benefits in New York State

General guideline

New York State maintains a robust paid family leave law, which was signed by Governor Cuomo in 2016. Paid family leave provides eligible employees with time off to bond with a newborn or adopted child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or assist loved ones when a family member is deployed abroad on active military service. Paid family leave also guarantees job protection and continuation of health insurance.

The law also includes protection against discrimination or retaliation against employees for taking the paid family leave to which they are entitled. Finally, an employee’s request for reinstatement after a period of paid leave cannot be denied by an employer; the employee has a right to initiate a workers’ compensation board hearing to file a discrimination or retaliation complaint against their employer. 

How have child care benefits in New York been impacted by COVID-19?

Employer requirements related to child care benefits have not changed due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Employees are still entitled to paid family leave, as well as any other paid time off policies the employer previously established.

New York State retirement benefits

General guideline

New York State does not require businesses to extend retirement plans to their employees. Although there is no requirement under state law, New York has worked to expand access to retirement plans for private sector workers in the state. 

In 2019, New York established a state retirement fund under the New York State Secure Choice Savings Program. While the retirement benefits fund is not mandatory for employers, they are eligible to participate if they so choose.

The fund follows a Roth IRA structure, meaning contributions to the fund are made on an after-tax basis and IRA deduction limits apply. Employers cannot make matching contributions to the plan; they are not considered fiduciaries under the plan and would be required to auto-enroll their employees on an opt-out basis. Default paycheck deductions are set at 3% of an employee’s pay.

Retirement benefits in New York State under COVID-19

Under the federal CARES Act, withdrawals up to $100,000 from retirement funds, including 401(k) and Roth IRA funds, are not subject to the usual early withdrawal penalties. Additionally, payments due on any loans against your 401(k) between March 27 and December 31, 2020, will be extended for one year under the law.

New York’s public employees are covered under the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). During the coronavirus pandemic, all NYSLRS consultation offices are closed indefinitely. However, the retirement system remains operational and continues to accept online applications and phone consultations.


While the COVID-19 crisis has hit New York particularly hard, employers and employees alike can navigate this evolving and challenging environment with the right tools at their disposal. To learn more about the Paycheck Protection Program, small business loans, and other resources, visit our COVID-19 resource hub.

Our COVID-19 Small Business Resource Hub has legislation updates, advice, and support.

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