Worker's Rights Frequently Asked Questions

A. Am I entitled to sick days?  What about health insurance or other benefits?

The law does not require most employers to grant sick days, even unpaid sick days.  There are two important exceptions:

  1. Many, but not all, workers are entitled to request up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year because of their or a family member’s sickness.  The time does not have to be used all at once; some of it can be used for a short-term illness.  For more information about such “family or medical leave,” contact the U.S. Department of Labor at (866) 487-9242 or http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/benefits-leave/fmla.htm;

  2. Most New York employers are required to provide “disability benefits,” which means that employees disabled by illness for more than seven days become entitled to half their wages, up to $170 per week, for up to 26 weeks.  For more information about disability benefits, contact the New York State Workers Compensation Board at (877) 632-4996 or visit "http://www.wcb.ny.gov/".  

The law does not currently require most employers to grant health insurance, or other benefits such as pensions or vacations.  But if the employer promises such benefits, it must live up to its promise.  For more information about the federal law which governs this, contact the U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration at (866) 444-EBSA or visit http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/aboutebsa/main.html.

B. I am about to have a baby, am I entitled to maternity leave?

New York State does not have a maternity leave law, but many, though not all, workers (both men and women) are entitled to request up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a newborn child.  For more information about such “family or medical leave,” contact the U.S. Department of Labor at (866) 487-9242 or http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/benefits-leave/fmla.htm  A woman may also be entitled to disability benefits for the period of time that her doctor certifies that she is unable to work, up to 26 weeks. NY Work Comp Law sec. 201(9)(B).   For more information about disability benefits, contact the New York State Workers Compensation Board at (877) 632-4996 or visit "http://www.wcb.ny.gov/".

C.  Am I entitled to a break during my work day?

The law entitles most workers to meal breaks, but does not require the employer to pay for this time.  Of course, if you are required to work during a break, you do have a right to be paid for it.  The law does not require employers to grant other breaks, but if there is a break shorter than 20 minutes, it must be a paid break.  The New York State Commissioner of Labor often permits an employer to shorten the meal break to 20 minutes.  Otherwise, New York Labor Law section 162 provides:

If:

Then you are entitled to a meal break of:

your shift is more than 6 hours, starts before 11 am and lasts past 2 pm

30 minutes between 11 am and 2 pm

your shift starts before 11 am and lasts past 7 pm

30 minutes between 11 am and 2 pm, and an additional 20 minutes between 5 pm and 7 pm

your shift is more than 6 hours and starts between 1 pm and 6 am

45 minutes (60 minutes for factory workers), in the middle of the shift

 

You are a factory worker on a day shift

60 minutes, between 11 am and 2 pm

 

 (Insert a link to the labor rights card) 

For more information about breaks, contact the New York State Department of Labor at 1 (800) 662-1220 or visit:  www.labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/employer/meals.shtm.
  

D.  My former employer is giving me bad references and I can't get another job. Is there anything I can do to stop him?

Probably not, as long as what the employer says is true or is just the employer’s opinion.    If you think you can prove that the employer is spreading false factual information about you, you might wish to consult an attorney about your possible rights.

E.  My employer won't let me see my personnel file. Is this legal?

Yes. There is no law in New York State which permits an employee to examine his or her personnel file.

F. Is there any limit on how long the employer can make me work?  Can my employer require me to work seven days a week?

There is no general legal limit on how long the employer can require adults to work, but you are entitled to overtime pay for all hours worked after 40 in a work week.  Factories, stores, hotels, restaurants and some other employers are required to give all employees at least one full day of rest (24 consecutive hours) each calendar week. NY Labor Law sec. 163.  There are limits on how long people under age 18 can work, and for some workers, such as drivers, there are safety laws that limit how many hours of  work is permissible.  For more information contact the New York State Department of Labor at (800) 662-1220 or visit: http://www.labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/faq.shtm#4
Or contact the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-4-USWAGE or visit http://www.dol.gov.

G. Do I have a right to join a union?

Federal law protects most workers’ right to join a union, by forbidding employers to retaliate if they do, and requiring the employer to bargain if workers choose union representation.  For more information, contact the National Labor Relations Board at 866-667-6572, or visit http://www.nlrb.gov.
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