The State of New York recently enacted a law that provides death benefits to the families of front-line workers who lost their lives during the on-going state of emergency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in New York. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill, S.8427/A.10528, on May 30, 2020.
The law takes effect immediately and is deemed to have been in full force and effect on or after March 1, 2020. However, the provisions of the law will expire and are deemed repealed on December 31, 2020.
This newly adopted benefit is available for employees enrolled in various retirement systems including but not limited to the New York State Employees’ Retirement System (NYSERS), New York State Police and Fire Retirement System (NYSPFRS), and New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS).
Under current law, the beneficiary of an active member who dies in service with three or more years of service is generally eligible for a benefit equal to three times the member’s most recent year’s salary from their retirement system. An accidental death benefit presently consists of a lifetime annuity of 50 percent of the member’s most recent year’s salary, but that benefit was limited in scope and coverage. This new law changes that benefit with regard to COVID-19.
Amending various current legal requirements, including the New York State Retirement and Social Security Law, the New York Education Law, the Public Authorities Law, and the Administrative Code of the City of New York, the new law creates an accidental death benefit for eligible public sector employees based on deaths related to COVID-19. The enactment of this change could increase employer contributions to the retirement systems, but given the absence of sufficient data at present, the actual financial impact may not be fully known for some time.
The circumstances triggering eligibility under this new enactment include:
It must be noted that no proof that the employee contracted COVID-19 at the workplace is required. The only proof required to secure this enhanced benefit involves: (1) a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant diagnosing COVID-19 or a diagnostic test confirming COVID-19; and (2) either the death certificate stating that COVID-19 caused or contributed to death or a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant certifying that COVID-19 caused or contributed to the death.
Once the beneficiary of the deceased employee demonstrates the proof above, the normal accidental death benefit is now mandatory for a COVID-19 related death. Under this new law, any ordinary death benefit which has already been paid will be used as an offset against the accidental death benefit.
The bill also extends the accidental death benefit to employees who retired on or after March 1, 2020 but before July 1, 2020, and otherwise meet the criteria stated above. Under those circumstances, the retired member’s statutory beneficiary may, within 90 days of such member’s retirement, or September 1, 2020, whichever is later, elect to convert the retirement benefit into an accidental death benefit.
Public employers should note that the law expressly authorizes the heads and boards of the covered retirement systems to promulgate rules and regulations to implement the provisions of the bill, including guidance on what shall constitute a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant in the absence of a laboratory test.
For more information or immediate guidance, contact: