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31 March 2021

COVID-19 Benefits Changes in 2021

A look at what has changed in the NY and federal programs in 2021

COVID-19 Benefits Changes in 2021

As COVID-19 continues to impact our lives and vaccines are starting to slow the rate of spread of the virus, the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) provided new guidance on January, 20, 2021, that limits how often an employee can receive NY’s COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave benefits. The new guidance does not change the existing law, but in fact supplements it with new protocols and limits.  These are quite similar to the requirements New York set for health care providers last year.

Further, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) law which provided federal benefits for certain COVID-19 related qualifying reasons, expired as of December 31, 2020 and now operates on a voluntary basis through September 30, 2021.  Let’s take a look at how these two programs changed in 2021 and what it may mean for you.   

New Guidance for NY COVID-19 Quarantine Benefits Effective January 20, 2021

As part of this new guidance, New York State now limits its COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave benefits to a maximum of three separate instances of being diagnosed with COVID-19.  For each quarantine you would need to obtain a mandatory order of quarantine or isolation, with the second and third quarantines each also requiring a positive COVID-19 test.

In other words, after an employee has received these benefits three times, they would not be eligible for these emergency benefits any further. This includes already taken benefits, so if an employee already had three covered instances, they would already be no longer eligible.  However, this does not include time paid out through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) first.   

The January 20, 2021 guidance also provides return-to-work guidance for an employer when an employee tests positive for COVID-19, if an employee has been under a mandatory quarantine or isolation, and what an employer must do if they want to voluntarily keep an employee home due to an exposure or potential exposure to the virus.  To learn more about this guidance, please visit the Coronavirus section of the NY.Gov website.

What hasn’t changed

New York State did not change any of the main points of the law including the breakdown by employer structure, duration, employer role and employee benefits so if you want to brush up on your knowledge of the law, you can visit our NY Emergency Paid Sick Leave resource article.   

Or, download this updated infographic, which also breaks out what you need to know:

NY Emergency Paid Sick Leave Details

NY Emergency COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Benefit Structure

Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is no Longer Mandatory as of January 1, 2021

The FFCRA program, which began on April 1, 2020, expired as a mandatory program on December 31, 2020.   It recently has been expanded and extended on a voluntary basis through September 30, 2021 as part of “The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.”

This means, it’s up to employers if they want to offer their employees benefits through the federal plan or not.  However, we have seen few, if any, of our policyholders offering this new expanded voluntary program. So it’s important for employees taking leave to talk with their employers to find out what their specific situation is, and where they should file for their benefits. 

You can read more about the FFCRA here along with more details on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 here.

How the Two Programs Work Together for Eligible New Yorkers

Since it is possible to come down with COVID-19 more than once, you may have already received benefits from the New York program and/or the federal FFCRA program.  So now, how do you know which program to you use? Since most employers have chosen not to extend the voluntary FFCRA benefits, then you may be just be eligible for the New York benefits.  But it could be New York, the federal or a combination of the two programs – which is why it’s important to speak to your employer to find out what your specific situation is.

This handy infographic has been updated to include example scenarios where the federal program has been extended, more than one COVID-19 leave has taken place and where the federal program is no longer available.

NY Emergency COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Benefit Period

In this example we have 5 New York workers who are under a COVID-19 quarantine.  But, let’s take a closer look at Jane and David who need to take benefits after January 1, 2021.* 


In her first COVID-19 quarantine, Jane received a combination of benefits due to her earning more than the federal salary cap – she received both New York and federal benefits for the first 14 calendar days of her quarantine, with 12 days of extended benefits from the New York program.  Yet, with the second COVID-19 quarantine, since Jane’s employer did not extend the federal FFCRA, Jane received all of her benefits from the New York program because she was not eligible for additional benefits under the Federal program.  Jane provided a positive COVID-19 test result for the second quarantine.   


David earned less than the federal salary cap and is in the first benefit category in the above infographic.  In this example, David would be eligible for the full 14 days benefits from the federal program since his employer extended the FFCRA voluntarily, and can supplement this by receiving benefits from the New York program for the remaining 6 days of his quarantine.

*This example is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be a guarantee of coverage.  Instead, claims are determined based upon the specific details of each claim upon submission of the claim.


There are a lot of details on these two laws and the 2021 changes have added an additional layer of complexity to the benefits puzzle.  If you are looking for additional information, we encourage you to talk to your employer who can help direct you to the best program for your specific situation.  Stay up-to-date on changes just like these by subscribing here for updates on COVID-19 and your statutory benefits!




This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal counsel. Please consult with an appropriate professional for legal and compliance advice. Any PFL information is as of the blog post’s date stamp; it is based on the applicable statutes and regulation,  and may change as regulations evolve or NY State issues guidance regarding Paid Family Leave regulations. Have more questions? Email us at

Categories: COVID-19 Updates



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