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Dear New Yorkers,

In this week’s update on working in NYC during the pandemic, we’re going to tell you about a weird thing that happens when your unemployment benefits hit 26 weeks. We’ll also break down workers' rights when it comes to paid time off and sick leave.

Let’s go.
For some, the 26th week of benefits may be “confusing as hell”

If you’re receiving traditional unemployment insurance (UI), you might encounter something odd when your account hits the 26th week.

Here’s what the NYS Department of Labor recently tweeted
This doesn’t happen to everyone. But if it does happen to you, here’s what it means:

To allow for a transition from the traditional state benefits to federal extension benefits, it may appear that you are receiving fewer benefits than usual on Week 26, said Farrell Brody, a workers’ rights attorney at TakeRoot Justice

But this doesn't mean you are necessarily losing benefits.

The 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits may run out mid-week depending on when you first certified that you’re out of work, for example. Your federal benefits won’t start that same week. They will start at the beginning of Week 27, going back to your full allotted benefits, assuming you are still unemployed and continue to certify.

While it may be annoying, befuddling or stressful, it’s just the process, as strange and robotic as it may be.

“It’s confusing as hell. It’s just bureaucracy,” Brody said. “Nothing’s wrong… just keep on certifying.” 

Note: This doesn’t apply to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits program, which is operated differently. To read more about the difference between traditional UI and the special PUA benefit programs, read our last worker update here.

Help: If you believe there’s still an issue with your benefits, you can call a state Department of Labor unemployment representative at (888)-209-8124. 
Let’s talk about paid time off, sick leave and employer accommodations

As you may have heard, New York City schools closed this week, due to the citywide positive test rate for coronavirus hitting 3%. So, as thousands of parents scramble to switch their kids to full-time remote learning, this next bit of info may be quite relevant.

We asked Elissa Devins, an employment lawyer and founder of the Employment Law Project at NYLAG, what are some common questions about paid leave laws and worker accommodations. 

Here’s some stuff to know:   

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides paid sick leave to certain workers — like those who have worked at least 30 days (part-time or full-time) in any public agency regardless of size or a private entity with fewer than 500 employees. You can use this tool from the Department of Labor to find out if you’re eligible for paid sick leave or paid expanded family and medical leave.

Here are a few common scenarios for eligible workers:

Your childcare provider or child’s school is closed due to COVID-19.
  • If you work full-time: You can receive 12 weeks of leave — two weeks of paid sick leave followed by up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave — at two-thirds your regular pay rate, under FFCRA.

  • If you work part-time: You can receive leave for the number of hours that you would normally be scheduled to work over a 12-week period, under FFCRA

  • If you’re an independent contractor: Unfortunately, independent contractors are not covered under FFCRA. However, you ARE eligible for a tax credit comparable to the same amounts outlined above. More information on that tax credit here.
Your child’s school is only open part-time. You’re not working from home but need to.

Because COVID-19 is protected as a disability under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), you should be able to get reasonable work accommodations from your employer. So, if you can circle one of these:
  • Have contracted COVID-19
  • Have an underlying condition that puts you at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19
  • Are pregnant can go to your boss or your HR department, tell them you have an illness or are pregnant and propose an accommodation. One common accommodation people ask for is to work from home, according to Brody. 

Help: If you want to know more about how to talk with your employer about accommodations, you can contact the Job Accommodations Network (JAN), an organization that provides free guidance on workplace accommodations and related Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

If you ask for accommodations, your employer can ask you for medical documentation. Here’s what you need to know:
  • Your employer is required under NYCHRL law to talk with you about the accommodations you’re seeking. 

  • Your employer is allowed to ask for documentation of your underlying condition, like a doctor’s note. They’re encouraged, however, to be flexible about requiring people to obtain this during the pandemic, according guidance from the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Help: If you believe your employer is needlessly denying your work accommodation request or you have questions about your specific situation, you should contact an attorney or a legal services organization. You can also file a complaint with the city against your employer for workplace discrimination.
What else we’re reading...

Gothamist reports on the recent school closures and how some parents are organizing to try and get the shutdown threshold loosened.

The New York Times shares stories of how street vendors in Queens, many of them immigrants, have been affected by the pandemic. 

THE CITY reported on how recent MTA budget cuts will affect bus drivers and riders alike. 

THE CITY reported that New York regained 11,000 restaurant jobs in October. But those positions — and more — could be lost if indoor dining is suspended.

One of the few things that made us smile this week: a worker discovered a tiny owl in the 75-foot Rockefeller Center Christmas tree that traveled 170 miles to NYC (via NBC News). 

Questions? Need some job advice? 

If you have specific questions about working or unemployment in NYC during the pandemic or something else you think we should cover, reply to this email.

Our friends from Brooklyn Public Library's Business & Career Center provide interviewing advice and one-on-one resume and career help via email and Zoom.

...and as always, feel free to share this with folks you think should get these updates. You can forward them this email or send us their email and we'll reach out.

Take care and talk soon,

THE CITY’S Open Newsroom

P.S. Interested in signing up for updates on rent and tenants' rights? Sign up here.
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