NEW YORK - An increasing number of New York City workers complain they are being denied their legally guaranteed paid sick leave.
The city's 2014 paid sick leave law guarantees most employees who work more than 80 hours a year up to 40 hours paid sick leave each year regardless of their immigration status.
"It's really important to note that paid sick time isn't just available if I wake up sick in the morning," said Liz Vladeck, deputy commissioner of the New York City Office of Labor Policy and Standards at the Department of Consumer Affairs. "It's also there if I need to take my kid, another family member or myself to the doctor, or if I need to care for a family member who is sick."
Eyewitness News found a roughly 10% increase this year in the number of people filing complaints against their employers about violations.
Some complain they were denied pay for sick days. Others allege they faced retaliation, including the loss of a job, for taking sick days.
This year's uptick follows a 25% drop in complaints in 2016, resulting from what Vladeck speculates was greater awareness among employers about the 2014 law.
Vladeck said she worries recent rhetoric from President Trump and the federal government about minorities could be negatively influencing employer behavior.
"Some employers are making a cost benefit analysis about what they can get away with," Vladeck said. "There has been a sense that with shifting federal priorities, the federal government's commitment to enforcing labor laws isn't as strong."
The city estimates minorities making less than $50,000 a year are 2.5 times more likely to face a workplace challenge.
Agustin Moreno is one of them.
Moreno said his employer, Optimum Gourmet Deli, denied him paid sick days for the birth of his youngest child.
"The boss treated us like animals," Moreno said. "He would intimidate us, tell us we are nothing."
With help from Catholic Migration Services, an organization offering free legal services to immigrants in Brooklyn and Queens, Moreno filed a complaint against his boss, Salat Alsaidi.
"A huge number of our clients are being denied sick leave and are not being paid for it. In some cases, they have lost their jobs because they took a sick day," said Alice Davis, a senior staff attorney at Catholic Migration Services.
Alsaidi told Eyewitness News he had "no comment" about the allegations.
The Department of Consumer Affairs ruled in Moreno's favor and ordered Optimum Gourmet Deli to pay Moreno $2,700 restitution, plus a $1,000 fine for violating the law.
"Workers vulnerabilities are not an excuse to violate the law," Vladeck said. "We want to send a message to employers that they have to take this law seriously.
Vladeck said the city is stepping up enforcement of the law to respond to the uptick in complaints.
Meanwhile, Moreno is settling into a new job and encouraging other workers to speak up for their rights.
"They have to show their faces, stand up for themselves," Moreno said.
Moreno has a separate wage and hour case against Optimum pending with the New York Department of Labor.
If you think your paid sick leave rights have been violated you can reach out to the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs by called 311 (212-NEW-YORK outside NYC).
You can also click on this link to download the form to file a complaint.
If you need free legal help you can also reach out to Catholic Migration Services at (347) 472-3500.