On Nov. 4, 2014, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot measure, known as the “Massachusetts Paid Sick Days Initiative,” to provide earned paid sick leave to employees.The Earned Sick Time Law is effective July 1, 2015, and generally covers all employers in Massachusetts. However, employers must comply with existing collective bargaining agreements or contracts that have more generous leave provisions.
On April 24, 2015, the Massachusetts Attorney General filed draft regulations to implement the Earned Sick Time Law, which clarify practices and policies in the administration and enforcement of the law. The draft regulations are not final, therefore, employers are not required to comply with them.
Also, on May 17, 2015, the Massachusetts Attorney General announced a delay in implementation of the earned sick time requirement, until Jan. 1, 2016, for certain employers who satisfy the requirements of a “safe harbor.”
In general, all employers in Massachusetts are required to comply with the Earned Sick Time Law. However, the paid leave requirement only applies to employers with 11 or more employees, as follows:
- Employers with 11 or more employees must allow all employees to earn and use paid sick time.
- Employers with fewer than 11 employees must allow all employees to earn and use unpaid sick time.
All employees—including part-time, temporary and seasonal employees—working in Massachusetts are eligible to accrue earned sick time. Whether an employee’s accrued earned sick time is paid depends on the size of his or her employer.
Employers may restrict the use of earned sick time for the first 90 days of employment.
Accrual of earned sick time
The Earned Sick Time Law requires that employees earn a minimum of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, starting July 1, 2015, up to a maximum of 40 hours per calendar year.
Employees must be permitted to carry over up to 40 hours of earned but unused sick time into the next calendar year. However, the law does not require employers to allow employees to use more than 40 hours of earned sick time in a calendar year.
Reasons for leave
An employee may use earned and accrued sick time, whether paid or unpaid, to:
- Care for a physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition affecting the employee or his or her child, spouse, parent or parent-in-law;
- Attend routine medical appointments of the employee or his or her child, spouse, parent or parent-in-law; or
Address the effects of domestic violence on the employee or his or her dependent child.
Notice and certification requirements
When possible, and when the need for leave is foreseeable, the law requires employees to make a good faith effort to provide advance notice of leave to their employers.
In addition, employers may require medical documentation or certification for the need to use earned sick time if the employee is absent for more than 24 consecutive work hours. However, an employer may not delay or deny sick time if this certification is not received.
An employer may not interfere with an employees’ right to use earned sick time and may not retaliate against any employees who request to use earned sick time.
On April 24, 2015, the Massachusetts Attorney General filed draft regulations to implement the Earned Sick Time Law. These draft regulations clarify practices and policies in the administration and enforcement of the Earned Sick Time Law including, but not limited to, the following:
- Requirements that an employer’s paid time off, vacation or other PTO policy must meet in order to be considered an allowable substitution for an earned sick time program;
- How employers are to address the “transition year” of July 1, 2015, until the beginning of the next calendar year for employee accrual and use purposes;
- Employer documentation and recordkeeping requirements; and
- How the Earned Sick Time Law affects attendance policies that reward employees for good attendance.
The draft regulations are not final. Therefore, at this time, employers are not required to comply with them. There will be various public hearings on the draft regulations, including a public comment period, which ends on June 10, 2015. The draft regulations, as well as information on public hearings and comment submissions, are available on the Attorney General’s website.
Delayed Implementation safe harbor
Employers who satisfy the requirements of a safe harbor may delay the implementation of earned sick time until Jan. 1, 2016, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General.
To qualify for this safe harbor, all of the following requirements must be met:
- The employer must have had a paid time off policy in place as of May 1, 2015;
- The employer’s paid time off policy must have provided employees with the right to use at least 30 hours of paid time off during the 2015 calendar year; and
- Any paid time off, including sick time, used by an employee from July 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2015, must be job-protected leave subject to the law’s non-retaliation and non-interference provisions.
On or before Jan. 1, 2016, all employers operating under this safe harbor must adjust their paid time off policy to conform to the requirements of the Earned Sick Time Law.
More information on the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law is available on the Massachusetts Attorney General’s website.
Shannon Hudspeth, SPHR