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Mayor de Blasio and Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Announce Settlement to Require Southwest Airlines to Rehire and Pay Employee Who Was Illegally Fired for Using Sick Leave

October 28, 2021

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Peter A. Hatch today announced a settlement agreement with Southwest Airlines to resolve violations of the NYC Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law. The settlement requires Southwest to rehire a member of the ground crew who was unlawfully fired for using sick leave and pay him $15,903.60 in backpay and restitution. The City also put Southwest on notice to bring their sick leave policy into compliance with the City’s Law or risk further investigation.  

“In New York City, paid safe and sick leave isn’t just nice to have – it’s the law,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Sick leave is vital to keeping its workers—and customers—healthy and safe. I thank the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for getting this employee back to work and for protecting the rights of employees across our city. Southwest Airlines: you’re on notice.” 

“Our goal in this case was to compel Southwest to reinstate this worker with backpay. But, in addition, we put Southwest on notice that they must correct their sick leave policy or we will investigate their overall compliance with the City’s Law,” said DCWP Commissioner Peter A. Hatch. “It’s bad enough to deny a worker their right to sick leave but to fire them for using it— during a global pandemic—is unacceptable. We urge any other Southwest ground crew worker who has been denied their leave to file a complaint with us—even if they wish to do so anonymously.” 

In May, DCWP received a complaint from a ramp agent at LaGuardia Airport who had been fired by Southwest for accruing too many disciplinary points after using sick leave. Under the NYC Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law, workers are entitled to use their accrued leave and it is illegal to retaliate against a worker for using that leave. DCWP fast tracked the retaliation case  to resolve it as quickly as possible for the worker. Under the settlement, Southwest is required to—and has already— reinstated the worker and must pay him $15,903.60 in restitution, including lost wages and benefits. The worker, who has worked for Southwest since 2015, is a member of the Transport Workers Union (TWU). 

Under the NYC Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law, employers with five or more employees and employers of domestic workers in New York City must provide paid safe and sick leave to employees. Employers with fewer than five employees and a net income of $ 1 million or more, and employers with between five and 99 employees must provide 40 hours of paid leave. Employers with 100 or more employees must provide up to 56 hours of paid leave. Employers with fewer than five employees and a net income of less than $1 million must provide unpaid safe and sick leave. Safe and sick leave is accrued at a rate of one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, and begins on the employee’s first day of employment. Employers of five or more employees who do not front-load safe and sick leave on the first day of a new calendar year must allow employees to carry over up to 40 or 56 hours of unused safe and sick leave from one calendar year to the new calendar year, depending on the size of the employer. 

If the need to use leave is foreseeable, employers can require up to seven days advance notice to use accrued leave. If the need is unforeseeable, employers may require notice as soon as practicable. Employers can require documentation for more than three consecutive workdays of leave, but it is illegal to require that documentation specify the reason for using it. Employers may not engage in or threaten retaliation against employees, which includes firing and any act that punishes an employee for or is likely to deter an employee from exercising their rights under the Law.  
Since the Law went into effect, DCWP has received more than 2,504 complaints about Paid Safe and Sick Leave, closed more than 2,198 investigations, and obtained resolutions requiring more than $13.9 million in combined fines and restitution for more than 37,557 workers. 
DCWP’s case was handled by Senior Enforcement Counsel Emily Hoffman under the supervision of Litigation Director Claudia Henriquez of DCWP’s Office of Labor Policy & Standards, which is led by Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Holt. 

Employers and employees can visit or call 311 (212-NEW-YORK outside NYC) for more information about the NYC Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law, including the required new Notice of Employee of Rights, which is available in 26 languages, one-page overviews for employers and employees, and the complaint form. 

“Today’s announcement demonstrates that there are real consequences for those who choose to violate our City’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law, and I thank the Administration and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for looking out for the best interest of workers and getting this individual the compensation he needs to be made whole. We’re sending a strong message that any violators of the law will face swift consequences and that this City will not allow workers’ rights to be violated without recourse,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Committee on Civil Service and Labor Chair

“We respectfully agree with the settlement agreement. We are thankful to the City of NY for joining this fight aiding a successful outcome that will prove beneficial to our membership. In securing our member’s reinstatement, with backpay and restitution, the City has restored a valuable employee to the airline. We extend our gratitude to Senior Enforcement Counsel, Emily Hoffman, Litigation Director, Claudia Henriquez, both of DCWP’s Office of Labor Policy & Standards, and Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Holt for their input and participation in resolving this matter. As we continue to fight for our member’s protections and rights, we welcome the assistance of all governmental agencies, local, state, and federal in future disagreements/clarifications regarding the Company’s application of policy,” said TWU Local 555 President Randy Barnes

“As we have always known and has been made even clearer during the current pandemic, no one should ever lose their job because they took the sick time they needed,” said Sherry Leiwant, Co-President and Co-Founder, A Better Balance. “We are so proud of New York City’s landmark paid sick leave law that we helped to pass, which ensures all workers can take paid sick ;eave when they need it without fearing retaliation. We applaud DCWP for enforcing this law and making sure that workers in our city are protected when they take sick leave and that New York City employers will not be permitted to use outmoded attendance policies to punish workers for taking sick leave.”  

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