City Council Proposes Essential Workers Protections


The New York City Council announced last week a COVID-19 legislative relief package which includes a NYC Essential Workers Bill of Rights. The legislation was introduced in a first-ever remotely held session of Council members. As many New Yorkers have sheltered at home to avoid contracting and spreading the deadly COVID-19 virus, many low wage workers have not. Undaunted, they continue to provide city residents with food products and services now recognized as essential. The recent proposed legislation offers these essential workers protections which include the following general provisions:

Premiums For Essential Workers

Under the proposed legislation, large employers would be required to pay premiums to certain non-salaried essential employees. Employers with more than 100 employees would be required to pay hourly workers a premium of $30 for a shift under four hours, $60 for a shift of four to eight hours, and $75 for a shift over eight hours. This obligation would end when the Governor rescinds the state of emergency.

Just Cause For Essential Workers

The proposed legislation also would prohibit the termination of an “essential worker” without just cause. This would override the current “at will” policy long recognized in New York State which permits employers to hire and fire an employee “at will.” Just cause is defined in the proposed legislation as “sufficient cause for discharging an essential employee, such as the employee’s failure to satisfactorily perform job duties or employee misconduct that is demonstrably and material harmful to the essential employer’s business interests.” This legislation would protect essential workers who protest working conditions or organize with other workers to address collective job concerns.

Paid Sick Leave For Gig Workers

This legislation would extend paid sick leave benefits to independent contractors. These workers were not included in the paid sick leave bill passed by the New York State legislature. This provision would account for the concern of Council members that as many as 850,000 workers are misclassified as “independent contractors,” despite being hired by large companies which control the terms and conditions of their jobs, such as the now prolific full service Insta-Cart workers. This proposed law would put the burden of proof on employers to classify workers as independent contractors.

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