New York's Paid Family Leave Proposed Regulations: A Primer for Employers

March 13, 2017

By Mara D. Afzali

On February 22, 2017, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board unveiled proposed regulations concerning the state's new Paid Family Leave (PFL) law.  The PFL law was passed as part of the 2016 state budget and will eventually require virtually every New York employer to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave:  (1) for the birth, adoption, or placement of a new child; (2) to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or (3) for a qualifying exigency arising from a family member's military service (as defined in the federal Family and Medical Leave Act).  This program will be funded through employee payroll deductions.  PFL is not intended to cover an employee's own serious health condition; rather, PFL is intended to complement the already existing state disability insurance program.  The basics of the PFL law can be found in our earlier blog article on this subject. The Workers' Compensation Board will be accepting comments on the proposed regulations for 45 days from the date of their release -- until April 7.  Click here to review the proposed regulations and to access an online link to submit comments.  The state also recently launched a website providing information about PFL for employers and employees and set up a new helpline.  Notably, however, the details on this new PFL website reflect the program as it would exist under the proposed regulations, meaning the information there is not yet final (despite how it appears). The proposed regulations contain a great deal of detail to digest, but several significant points will immediately catch the attention of employers:

  • First, the state proposes a system where employees apply directly to the employer's insurance carrier for PFL benefits.  The employer merely completes one section of a claim form before it is submitted to the carrier by the employee.  The insurance carrier makes the final determination -- not the employer.  The proposed regulations provide specific details on the format, contents, and timing of claims and decisions on claims.  This is significant because the insurance carrier's determination will have an impact beyond just the payment of benefits to the employee:  it will also require the employer to protect the employee's job, and to maintain his/her health insurance benefits for the duration of the leave.  Additionally, for employers and employees covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), FMLA and PFL benefits will typically run concurrently (more on this below).  Therefore, employers will be faced with a situation where they are making a leave decision simultaneously with an insurance carrier for the same exact leave.  There could be a situation where the employer denies leave, and the carrier approves it.  (Consider, for example, a situation where the employer believes the medical certification is not sufficient, but the carrier disagrees.)  Additionally, the proposed regulations do not include any key employee exceptions like FMLA.  Thus, no matter the size of the employer or the role played by the employee, once the carrier approves the leave, the employer must grant it and guarantee reinstatement at the conclusion of the leave.
  • Second, the proposed regulations set up an arbitration system for the purpose of appealing claims denials.  The arbitrator is appointed by the State Workers’ Compensation Board.  The proposed regulations do not appear to contemplate a situation where the employer could appeal because it believes the benefits were wrongly awarded.  Moreover, it is easy to anticipate the complications that could arise if an arbitrator reverses a claims denial.  If the employer denied the time off because the claim was denied and the purpose for the leave has long passed, what is the employee’s remedy?  On the other hand, if the employee already took the time off but used paid time off, do they receive PFL benefits on top of the wages already received?  Must the employer restore the employee’s paid time off that was used?  All of this is unclear.
  • Third, employers cannot require employees to use accrued paid time off (such as PTO, sick, or personal time) for the requested PFL time.  It can offer the option and then, if the employee elects this option, seek reimbursement from the insurance carrier.  If the employee elects to use accrued paid time, the employee is still entitled to be reinstated.  If an employee declines this option, he or she can effectively save PTO to be used after his or her return from PFL (which is likely inconsistent with the reason the employer offered various forms of PTO in the first instance).
  • Fourth, state disability and PFL will not run concurrently.  This means that in the case of maternity leave, it appears that an employee could conceivably collect disability payments for the first 6-8 weeks of leave (which would not be a PFL-covered absence), and then transition to PFL for an additional 12 weeks job-protected paid leave, for a total of 18-20 weeks off with partial pay.
  • Fifth, the regulations do allow PFL and FMLA leave to run concurrently (as mentioned above).  However, this will hinge on the employer designating the leave as FMLA leave by providing the notice required under the federal FMLA regulations.  Employers need to remember to provide the FMLA designation notice.  The insurance carrier's acceptance of a claim for PFL benefits does not automatically cause FMLA leave to run concurrently.  Also related to the interplay with FMLA, the differing eligibility standards between PFL and FMLA sets up a situation where a new employee becomes eligible after only working 26 weeks for the employer, and can immediately take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave.  Then, once the employee returns to work and reaches the FMLA threshold of 1,250 hours in 12 months, the employee will be eligible for another 12 weeks of job-protected leave.

A few other aspects of the proposed regulations will also interest employers.  Under the proposed regulations, disability insurance carriers will be required to offer PFL coverage in conjunction with their existing disability insurance policies.  Employees who are covered by a disability insurance policy will automatically be covered for purposes of PFL effective January 1, 2018.  Carriers who choose to get out of the disability insurance business in New York, so as to avoid administering the PFL insurance program, must notify New York State by the earlier of July 1, 2017 or within thirty days of the date the community rates for premiums are published by the state (or within 180 days of discontinuing coverage, if discontinued after 2018).  Employers who are self-insured for disability purposes have the option of either self-insuring for PFL benefits or obtaining alternative coverage.  The employer must make the election to self-insure by November 30, 2017. Unionized employers with leave provisions in their collective bargaining agreement that are at least as favorable to employees as the PFL program are exempt from the law.  However, it is not clear who will make the determination of whether the CBA’s benefits are sufficiently favorable.  Additionally, public employers are only covered if they elect to opt-in. These are just a few highlights.  There is much more detail covered in the 48 pages of proposed PFL regulations.  Employers should take the time to review these regulations and submit comments to the Workers' Compensation Board on how the proposed provisions will impact their workplace. It is possible that many aspects of the regulations will change between now and when they are finalized.  Due to the unknown, we do not recommend that employers begin drafting and revising leave policies on the basis of these proposed regulations.  However, we do recommend that employers take an inventory of current leave practices and policies and begin to anticipate how they might need to change.  Once the final regulations are published, it will be critical for employers to quickly respond.  Among other things, employers will be required to provide written details of how PFL benefits are administered to employees.  Those written details will need to reflect the processes set forth in the final PFL regulations. We will continue to analyze these proposed regulations and provide additional updates on how they might impact your workplace.  Stay tuned to our blog for further updates.

Federal Contractors Required to Use New Disability Self-Identification Form

March 7, 2017

By Larry P. Malfitano
The revised Regulations of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act (which became effective in March 2014) required Federal contractors and subcontractors to invite applicants and employees to self-identify their disability status using an Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) prescribed form:  (1) at the pre-offer stage of the application process, (2) post-offer after an applicant is offered a position but prior to starting work, and (3) by survey of the workforce every 5 years.  The required OFCCP Form is Form CC-305; this form cannot be altered or changed.  The original Form CC-305 approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB ) expired on 1/31/2017. The OFCCP recently published a notice that the OMB has approved a new Form for another three years.  No change was made to the Form except the expiration date.  Effective immediately, Federal contractors and subcontractors must either download the renewed form(s) or update their electronic version(s) of the Form to reflect the new expiration date of 1/31/2020.  The Form is available in multiple formats and languages and can be obtained from the OFCCP’s website here.

Travel Ban via Executive Order: Take Two

March 7, 2017

By Caroline M. Westover
As Yogi Berra once said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Since mid-February, the Trump Administration promised the imminent release of a revised and improved executive order addressing travel ban and refugee admissions. The wait is over.  On Monday, March 6, 2017, President Trump signed a new executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” (the new EO).  The new EO revokes and replaces Executive Order 13769 (EO 13769), which President Trump signed on January 27, 2017.  From the get-go, there was significant confusion surrounding the scope and implementation of EO 13769, immediately followed by numerous legal challenges.  On February 9, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a temporary restraining order issued by a lower court, which prohibited the federal government from enforcing any restrictions contained in EO 13769. Unlike EO 13769, which was effective immediately, the new EO allows for a ten-day grace period and will not become effective until 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, March 16, 2017. Similar to its predecessor, the new EO imposes a 90-day “temporary pause” on the entry into the United States of nationals from the following six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Most notably, Iraq is no longer on the list. Nevertheless, the new EO states that Iraqi nationals will be subject to additional scrutiny where they may “have connections with ISIS or other terrorist organizations, or otherwise pose a risk to either national security or public safety.” In an effort to avoid the chaos that ensued following EO 13769, the new EO provides greater clarity on the scope of the travel ban. Specifically, the 90-day travel ban will apply only to those foreign nationals from the six enumerated countries of concern if:
  • the foreign national is not physically present in the United States on the effective date of the order (March 16, 2017);
  • the foreign national did not have a valid visa at 5:00 pm EST on January 27, 2017; and
  • the foreign national does not have a valid visa on March 16, 2017.
The new EO order is very clear that it does not apply to green card holders, those with validly issued visas, and dual citizens.   In addition, the new EO allows for exceptions and individualized assessments to be made by consular and border immigration officers in certain cases. In addition to implementing a revised travel ban, the new EO also addresses the current refugee program. Specifically, the new EO:
  • caps the admission of refugees to no more than 50,000 for fiscal year 2017;
  • directs the Secretary of State to suspend refugee travel into the United States for 120 days (beginning on March 16, 2017); and
  • directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend decisions on applications for individuals seeking refugee status for 120 days (beginning on March 16, 2017).
Noticeably absent from the new EO is the indefinite ban on the admission of Syrian refugees that appeared in EO 13769. While the headlining topics of the new EO remain focused on travel restrictions and refugee admissions, it is worth noting that the new EO also mandates the following:
  • the immediate suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program (but for individuals seeking a visa based upon diplomatic or diplomatic-type visa status);
  • a review of non-immigrant visa reciprocity agreements currently in place with other countries to ensure that such agreements are “truly reciprocal”;
  • the collection and disclosure of certain data to the American people pertaining to foreign nationals and their involvement in or connection to certain nefarious activities (i.e., terrorist-related offenses, acts of gender-based violence against women, etc.).
Despite the Trump Administration’s efforts to narrowly tailor this newest EO, we anticipate that there will be legal challenges filed by various stakeholders in the coming days and weeks.

Albany County Enacts Legislation Prohibiting Inquiries into Criminal Convictions for County Employment

February 24, 2017

By Megan M. Collelo
Following a national trend to "ban the box" on job applications, on February 13, 2017, the Albany County Legislature passed legislation prohibiting Albany County from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal conviction history until after the applicant receives a conditional offer of employment.  The new law, entitled the "Albany County Fair Chance Act," also requires the County to post a disclaimer on job announcements and position descriptions for positions that necessitate an inquiry into the applicant’s criminal history or a background check.  If the position for which an applicant is being considered requires inquiry into the applicant’s criminal history, and the result of this inquiry leads to a revocation of the conditional offer, the County must provide the individual with an adverse action notice containing the County’s basis for the decision, a copy of the conviction history report, a notation of the conviction(s) that form the basis of the action, and information on how to appeal the decision.  The Act will be enforced by the Albany County Department of Human Resources, and will be effective immediately upon filing in the Office of the Secretary of State. The applicability of this legislation is extremely narrow:  only Albany County itself is subject to its requirements and restrictions.  Municipalities and private entities doing business in Albany County are not covered by the law. Other New York State municipalities have also passed "ban the box" legislation.  For additional information regarding "ban the box" legislation applicable to New York City, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, please click on the link for each municipality.

What is the Current Status of OSHA's Injury and Illness Reporting Rule?

February 21, 2017

By Michael D. Billok

As we previously reported on this blog, OSHA recently made sweeping changes to its injury and illness reporting rule.  The agency delayed enforcement of the rule until December 1, 2016.  Many industry advocates were hoping for a reprieve, and several industry groups, including the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Manufacturers, had filed suit, seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the rule from going into effect.  Unfortunately, the injunction was denied and the rule did go into effect on December 1.  However, the rule is still being challenged.  Interestingly, the incoming administration recently jointly filed a letter with the court along with the plaintiffs, stating that each side planned to move for summary judgment, strongly suggesting that the incoming administration has no plans to revise or revoke the rule. One of the more troubling aspects of the rule was not in the rule itself, but in the preamble to the rule -- OSHA's stated position that it would consider blanket rules that require drug testing of employees after any accident to be unreasonable, i.e., to discourage the reporting of injuries and illnesses.  Without announcement, OSHA issued guidance on its position late last year that should ameliorate employers’ concerns.  Simply put, employers do not have to have reasonable suspicion of drug use, but reasonable suspicion that drug use could have led to the accident causing illness or injury.  OSHA provides the following examples: "Consider the example of a crane accident that injures several employees working nearby but not the operator.  The employer does not know the causes of the accident, but there is a reasonable possibility that it could have been caused by operator error or by mistakes made by other employees responsible for ensuring that the crane was in safe working condition.  In this scenario, it would be reasonable to require all employees whose conduct could have contributed to the accident to take a drug test, whether or not they reported an injury or illness.  Testing would be appropriate in these circumstances because there is a reasonable possibility that the results of drug testing could provide the employer insight on the root causes of the incident.  However, if the employer only tested the injured employees but did not test the operator and other employees whose conduct could have contributed to the incident, such disproportionate testing of reporting employees would likely violate section 1904.35(b)(1)(iv). Furthermore, drug testing an employee whose injury could not possibly have been caused by drug use would likely violate section 1904.35(b)(1)(iv).  For example, drug testing an employee for reporting a repetitive strain injury would likely not be objectively reasonable because drug use could not have contributed to the injury.  And, section 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) prohibits employers from administering a drug test in an unnecessarily punitive manner regardless of whether the employer had a reasonable basis for requiring the test." So, if an employee on a scaffold dropped a piece of lumber, striking an employee below in an area the employee was allowed to walk, it would not be proper to test the employee below, but it would be proper to test the employee on the scaffold, because operator error -- and possible drug impairment -- could have contributed to the accident. It still remains to be seen whether this rule will be rescinded through the Congressional Review Act or vacated through the lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Texas, but in the meantime, employers should make sure their policies regarding injury and illness reporting comport with the new requirements.

NYSDOL Regulations Regarding Payment of Wages by Debit Card and Direct Deposit Have Been Revoked

February 17, 2017

By John M. Bagyi
In a decision issued yesterday, the New York State Industrial Board of Appeals (IBA) revoked the regulations regarding payment of wages by debit card and direct deposit.  While the full decision is available here, the upshot is that the IBA concluded that the Commissioner exceeded his “rulemaking authority and encroached upon the jurisdiction of the banking and financial services regulators.” Accordingly, the regulations governing the payment of wages by debit card and direct deposit, which were set to go into effect on March 7th, are revoked.  Employers need not act to come into compliance with those regulations. An appeal is possible.  Stay tuned.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Refuses to Reinstate Trump’s Travel Ban

February 10, 2017

By Joanna L. Silver

Passport-Gavel-300x199 After hearing oral arguments earlier this week from attorneys representing the White House and the states of Washington and Minnesota, last night, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously upheld the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington’s February 3, 2017 issuance of a temporary restraining order prohibiting the federal government from enforcing President Trump’s Executive Order 13769, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” (EO 13769).  As you know from our previous blog posts, EO 13769 suspends the entire refugee admission program for 120 days, the Syrian refugee program indefinitely and the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for an initial 90-day period.  For now, as a result of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, citizens from the seven restricted countries will be able to travel to the U.S. Despite the fact that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling refuses to reinstate EO 13769’s travel ban, it is important to note that this situation will continue to be fluid, and the Trump administration will very likely seek to appeal this latest decision. As such, we continue to advise that individuals from the seven restricted countries who are presently in the U.S. forego unnecessary international travel at this time.  In addition, for those individuals from the restricted countries who have valid U.S. visas, who are presently outside the U.S. and who have the intent to return to the U.S., we recommend that they consider traveling to the U.S. while there remains an opportunity to do so.

Update on Executive Order 13769: "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States"

February 5, 2017

By Kseniya Premo

We previously reported that on January 27, 2017, the Trump administration issued Executive Order 13769 entitled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”  EO 13769 suspends the entire U.S. refugee admission system for 120 days, the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, and the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from seven designated countries of concern for an initial period of 90 days.  Exactly one week later, on February 3, 2017, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits the federal government from enforcing EO 13769 on a nationwide basis. On February 4, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") issued a statement announcing that "in accordance with the judge's ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order . . .” and that “DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure.”  In addition, all airlines and terminal operators have been notified to permit the boarding of all passengers without regard to nationality. Similarly, the Department of State (“DOS”) confirmed that all visas that had been provisionally revoked pursuant to EO 13769 have now been reinstated and are valid once again. In response to these developments, the Trump administration announced that it would file an emergency stay of the order “at the earliest possible time.”  Late in the day on February 4, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a formal notice of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  The appeal sought to resume the travel ban by requesting an emergency stay of the decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.  Early this morning (Sunday, February 5), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an initial decision denying the DOJ’s emergency request.  However, the federal appeals court has also asked both parties to brief their respective legal arguments before rendering its final decision.  For now, the travel ban remains suspended. Developments from this past week have demonstrated that the interpretations and implementation of EO 13769 continue to fluctuate and evolve.  Accordingly, individuals from the seven designated countries of concern who are currently in the United States would be well-advised not to travel outside of the United States until the issues surrounding EO 13769 have been clearly settled by the judicial system.

EEOC Issues Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Harassment

February 3, 2017

By Alyssa N. Campbell
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is seeking public comment on its newly proposed enforcement guidance addressing unlawful workplace harassment under the federal anti-discrimination laws.  The initial deadline for employers and other members of the public to submit input regarding the proposed guidance was February 9, but the EEOC just announced today that it was extending the deadline to March 21. The publishing of the new proposed guidance stems from the recommendations made last June by the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the study of harassment in the workplace.  If put into effect, the new guidelines would supersede pre-existing agency guidelines created during the 1990s.  The EEOC issued a press release, in which EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum was quoted as saying:  “This guidance clearly sets forth the Commission's positions on harassment law, provides helpful explanatory examples, and provides promising practices based on the recommendations in the report.” The majority of the 75-page guidance offers an overview of the EEOC’s positions on the following topics:
  • harassment based on protected characteristics (race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, and genetic information);
  • establishing causation;
  • harassment resulting in discrimination based on a term, condition, or privilege of employment;
  • defining hostile work environment claims;
  • employer liability standards; and
  • systemic harassment.
In its guidance, the EEOC also suggests a number of “promising practices” to help employers eliminate workplace harassment including:
  • committed and engaged leadership;
  • strong and comprehensive harassment policies;
  • trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and
  • regular and interactive anti-harassment trainings.
In its press release accompanying the issuance of the proposed guidance, the EEOC stated that the new guidance is necessary because the number of harassment claims filed over the past several years is on the rise.  According to the EEOC, between 2012 and 2015, the percentage of private sector charges that included an allegation of harassment increased from slightly more than one-quarter of all charges annually to over 30% of all charges.  In 2015, the EEOC received 27,893 private sector charges that included an allegation of harassment, accounting for more than 31% of the charges filed that year. Employers who are interested in providing input on the proposed guidance may do so by submitting comments through www.regulations.gov, or by sending written feedback to:  Public Input, EEOC, Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507.  The EEOC will consider input from the public before finalizing and issuing the guidance.  In addition, this would be an opportune time for employers to review their anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures, to revise those policies and procedures if necessary, and to conduct some anti-harassment training for employees.

President Trump's Travel Ban and Its Impact on Your Employees

January 30, 2017

By Kseniya Premo

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order ("EO") entitled "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States."  The EO suspends the entire U.S. refugee admission system for 120 days and the Syrian refugee program indefinitely.  In addition, the EO suspends the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from certain designated countries of concern for an initial period of 90 days.  It should be noted that after 90 days, travel is not automatically reinstated for foreign nationals from these countries of concern.  Instead, the EO has mandated that the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) be required to report whether countries have provided information "needed . . . for the adjudication of any . . . benefit under the INA . . . to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat."  If a country refuses to provide the requested information regarding its nationals to enable the United States to adjudicate visas, admissions, or other benefits provided under the INA, the EO states that foreign nationals from that country will be prohibited from entering the United States until compliance has been achieved.  The EO currently applies to individuals from seven designated countries:  Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. There has been significant confusion regarding the scope and implementation of the EO’s travel ban.  Currently, it appears that the travel ban includes and applies to the following groups of individuals:  non-immigrant visa holders, immigrant visa holders, refugees, derivative asylees, Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), etc.  Moreover, any foreign national holding a passport from one of the seven designated countries is considered to be "from" the designated country.  Accordingly, dual citizens who hold passports issued by both a designated country and non-designated country may also be subject to the travel ban.  Further adding to the confusion regarding the scope of this EO, the DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a clarification statement late yesterday which noted that status as a lawful U.S. permanent resident (a.k.a. “green card holder”) “will be a dispositive factor” used in the case-by-case analysis for determining re-entry and/or admission into the United States. Based on the information set forth in the EO, employers would be well-served to advise employees who are from any of these seven designated countries to refrain from traveling outside of the United States until further notice.  While the EO has specifically identified seven countries of concern, there is speculation that this list may evolve and expand in the future.  Therefore, foreign nationals who hold immigrant and/or non-immigrant visas and who are presently in the United States from other Middle Eastern countries should strongly consider avoiding any international travel, where possible. Legal challenges to this EO have already been filed on constitutional grounds.  We anticipate that more lawsuits by various stakeholders will be initiated in the coming days and weeks.  On Saturday, January 28, 2017, a federal judge in New York granted an emergency stay for citizens of 7 Muslim-majority countries who have already arrived in the United States and those foreign nationals who are already in transit (with valid visas).  The court ruled that these foreign nationals cannot be removed from the United States.  In addition, on January 29, 2017, two district court judges in Massachusetts issued a 7-day restraining order on the enforcement of the EO.  The restraining order permits individuals traveling to Boston from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who are legally authorized to enter the United States to do so -- at least for the next seven days.  Even though these court decisions do not overrule or invalidate the EO on its face, they do send two messages:  (1) the subject matter contained in the EO will be subject to legal challenges; and (2) given the gravity of the situation, the courts will likely address any such legal challenges in an expeditious manner. As suggested above, until more practical guidance is issued from the courts, the DHS, and/or the White House, employers should advise their foreign national employees who could potentially be impacted by this EO not to travel abroad.

NYSDOL Posts Draft Model Templates for Payroll Debit Cards and Direct Deposit Notice and Consent

January 24, 2017

By John M. Bagyi
Pursuant to new regulations that take effect on March 7, 2017, New York employers will be required to satisfy certain notice requirements and obtain employees' informed consent before paying wages by debit card or direct deposit.  (Additional information concerning those regulations can be found here.)  In connection with those regulations, this week the New York State Department of Labor posted model templates for written notice and consent for public comment and feedback. The notice and consent for payroll debit cards can be found here. The notice and consent for direct deposit can be found here. Comments and feedback can be submitted to regulations@labor.ny.gov through February 10, 2017.  The Department indicates that after making any changes from such comment and feedback, it will post updated templates prior to the March 7 effective date of the rule, along with translations into additional languages specified during the rulemaking process.

A New Year, A New Form I-9

January 23, 2017

By Caroline M. Westover
On November 14, 2016, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) released a new Form I-9 (Rev. 11/14/2016 N) to replace the prior form which expired on March 31, 2016.  Beginning January 22, 2017, employers must use this updated form for the initial employment verification of all new hires, as well as any applicable employment re-verifications.  Prior versions of the Form I-9 will no longer be valid.  The new Form I-9 has an expiration date of August 31, 2019. By way of background, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”) requires employers to verify the identity and legal work authorization of all individuals, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, hired after November 6, 1986.  Specifically, the I-9 verification process requires individuals to present facially valid documentation to enable employers to verify an individual’s identity and to further confirm that the individual is authorized to work in the United States.  For record-keeping purposes, an employer must retain completed Form I-9s for either three years after an individual’s date of hire or one year after the employment relationship ends -- whichever is later. According to a press release issued by the USCIS, the new Form I-9 is “designed to reduce errors and enhance form completion using a computer.”  Dubbed a “smart form,” the online version of this updated form now includes various enhancements intended to minimize technical errors commonly made by employers and employees.  For example, some of the new I-9 smart form features include the following:
  • Embedded prompts in the online Form I-9 which provide instructions on how to properly complete that particular question.
  • Drop down lists for certain questions (e.g., citizenship/immigration status, number of preparers/translators, state, document title, issuing authority, etc.) and calendar entries for requested dates (e.g., date of birth, document expiration dates, etc.).
  • The opportunity to list/enter information for more than one preparer and/or translator (if applicable).
  • Auto-population of “N/A” in certain blank fields (where applicable).
  • Auto-population of the employee’s name and citizenship/immigration status into Section 2 based upon responses provided in Section 1.
  • A mechanism which prompts an individual about missing information and/or incomplete fields -- highlighted in red -- before moving from one section to another within the form.
  • An “error-checking mechanism” which provides prompts and error messages where there may be potential response inconsistencies between citizenship/immigration status and proffered I-9 supporting documentation.
  • A “Start Over” option that enables an individual to clear the Form I-9 and start anew, if necessary.
  • A “Print” option that enables an individual to print the Form I-9 once data has been entered.
  • An “Instructions” option which automatically links an online user to a separate copy of the Form I-9 instructions.
  • Automatic generation of a quick response (QR) code.
Employers are reminded that even if they use the enhanced online version of the Form I-9, they must still print the document, gather the necessary handwritten signatures and store the completed form pursuant to the applicable I-9 recordkeeping requirements. In addition to the electronic enhancements mentioned above, the USCIS has made several other notable revisions to the new Form I-9.  A summary of the main changes within each section of the form appears below. Improved Instructions In this latest round of revisions, the USCIS has separated the instructions from the actual Form I-9.  In addition, the USCIS has amended the instructions to provide more detail and guidance in an effort to reduce errors during the verification process.  The Form I-9 instructions are now 15 pages in length.  Employers should note that they are still required to make either an electronic or hard-copy of these instructions available to employees when they complete the Form I-9. Section 1:  Employee Information and Attestation
  • The “Other Names Used” field has been renamed to “Other Last Names Used (if any).”  This field has changed to require only last name changes in an effort to protect the privacy of individuals (transgendered and others) who have changed their first names, as well as to avoid potential discrimination issues.
  • Foreign national employees are no longer required to provide both their Form I-94 number and foreign passport information in Section 1.  Instead, the updated form requires foreign national workers to supply one response from the following three options:  (i) an Alien Registration Number; or (ii) a Form I-94 Admission Number; or (iii) a foreign passport number.
  • The employer must now affirmatively answer whether he/she has used a preparer/translator for completion of Section 1 of the Form I-9.  If a preparer/translator has been used, the updated form now provides additional spaces to enter multiple preparers/translators.
Section 2:  Employer or Authorized Representative Review and Verification
  • Addition of the employee’s “Citizenship/Immigration” status at the beginning of Section 2.  (This information should be consistent with what the employee has listed in Section 1.)
  • A new dedicated box/blank section where employer representatives may enter additional information/notes previously written in the margins (e.g., annotations for OPT extensions, receipts, Temporary Protected Status, etc.).
As noted above, the new Form I-9 includes new electronic features to facilitate fewer errors during the completion process.  Reducing the number of technical/paperwork violations on the Form I-9 has become increasingly important since the federal government implemented higher civil fines against employers who commit immigration-related offenses, which includes, among other things, Form I-9 and E-Verify violations.  With respect to I-9 paperwork errors (e.g., errors or omissions on the Form I-9), the federal government raised the civil penalty range from $110-$1,110 (per relevant individual) to $216-$2,156 (per relevant individual) -- an increase of approximately 96%.  The new penalties took effect on August 1, 2016. Given the anticipation of heightened immigration enforcement by the new administration, employers may be well-served to review their I-9 procedures and records to ensure compliance with IRCA.  If you have questions about the new Form I-9 or general I-9 compliance issues, please contact Bond’s Immigration Practice Group.