Six scofflaw employers, including a Best Buy branch and FedEx, were among the first businesses to be slapped with fines under the city’s year-old paid sick leave law, officials said.
In total, $39,350 has been levied against employers since the law went into effect last April and another 116 complaints were resolved through mediation, said officials with the Department of Consumer Affairs.
“Over the past year, the paid sick leave law has transformed the lives of more than a million hardworking New Yorkers by allowing them to take the time to care for themselves and their loved ones,” said Julie Menin, commissioner of the city agency.
Besides Best Buy and FedEx, Primo Cappuccino, American Girl Cafe, Lismir Cards and the East Harlem Council for Human Services have all been fined under the law, which guarantees time off for workers who become sick.
Hit hardest was FedEx, which city investigators walloped with $33,600 in fines after a complaint filed by an employee triggered a broader inquiry into the courier service last fall, officials said.
The investigation determined that workers at some of the Memphis-based company’s 60 retail branches across the city were refused sick leave between April 1 and Dec. 7 of 2014, officials said.
The delivery service was also ordered to credit sick leave to 165 employees across the city and pay $15,000 in restitution to 30 employees affected under the law.
“We worked collaboratively with the Department of Consumer Affairs to resolve this issue and have taken appropriate action to ensure we remain in compliance,” said a FedEx spokeswoman.
A Best Buy on E. Forham Road in the Bronx also failed to notify staffers about the law and illegally capped sick leave hours, according to city inspectors. As a result, the Minneapolis-based retailer agreed to pay a $525 fine and change sick leave policies at New York branches, records show.
But nationally recognized companies weren’t the only ones that broke the paid sick leave law.
Primo Cappuccuino which operates a cart in Penn Station, was slapped with $1,225 in fines and was ordered to repay $912 in restitutions after a worker with a brain aneurysm was refused time off work for surgery, officials said.
All told, the city has received 472 complaints from employees citywide since April. The majority were settled via mediation.
That includes Vic Velasquez, 48, who called out with a fever last year at the real estate management company where he works — only to be told he’d already used up all his sick days.
After filing a complaint in October, Department of Consumer Affairs officials mediated with Velasquez’ employer and settled on a $250 restitution, he said.
“Everything was fixed,” said Velasquez. “This is something essential for everyone to have.”
Menin maintains that the department’s paid sick leave team of 14 investigators and lawyers with support from other staffers are doing their best to clear cases. The average complaint takes 33 days to resolve, she added.
“The ones that are open were opened a month ago or more recently,” Menin said. “It’s nearly impossible to close them all out. A lot of the process is defined by law.”
Still, one advocate group hopes the city adds more resources to enforce the law. “We do believe DCA should be supported and build out its enforcement power,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group.
The law was strenously opposed by business groups who argued it would unfairly burden small companies.
That criticism was largely muted on the year anniversary of the bill’s passing.
The measure’s effect on small restaurants and neighborhood businesses remains unknown, said Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of Partnership for New York City, a business umbrella group that opposed the measure.
“The jury is still out,” she said. “There hasn’t been a real comprehensive assessment of impact.”
The “small” number of fines being issued shows that the vast majority of businesses already provide their employees with sick leave, she added.
On Tuesday, Wylde and other business groups repeatedly hailed the city’s implementation of the law.
“The Department of Consumer Affairs has done a terrific job of working with the restaurant industry to provide information and if there is a problem to focus on mediation first as opposed to fines,” said Andrew Rigie, head of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
City officials cited a myriad of economic metrics to show that the law hasn’t slowed the thriving economy. That includes the 6.5% unemployment rate and the addition of 112,300 private sector jobs between January 2014 and 2015.
“For those who said the enactment of paid sick leave would hurt business, we are not seeing that in New York or other cities,” Menin said.
The law applies to companies with five or more employees. Staffers at those businesses are entitled to a maximum of five paid sick days. The first fine for violations is $500, jumping to $750 for a second violation and $1,000 for a third.
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