Employment Law Alert

Massachusetts Employees Entitled To Sick Leave Beginning July 2015

November 1, 2014

On November 4, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot measure which, for the first time, will entitle Massachusetts employees (except for certain federal and municipal employees) to sick leave.  The law goes into effect on July 1, 2015, and will be one of the nation’s most generous sick leave laws.  Employers of 11 or more employees must provide paid leave for workers, while smaller employers must provide unpaid leave. 

To ensure compliance with this new law, employers should update their existing policies and handbooks. Employers with existing policies that  provide employees with as much (or more) sick leave as required by the law need not to provide additional leave.  However, changes to existing policies will be necessary unless sick leave may be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as set forth in the new law.  Because the terms of most employers’ existing policies may not be as broad as the new law, employers may need to revise their existing policies in order to avoid having to provide additional paid sick leave.

Who is Eligible for Sick Leave?

Under the new law, full and part time employees of employers with 11 or more employees will be eligible to earn up to 40 hours of annual paid sick leave, while full and part time employees of employers with fewer than 11 employees will be eligible to earn up to 40 hours of annual unpaid sick time.

For purposes of calculating whether an employer comes within the 11 employee threshold, the law will count any person who performs services for an employer for “wage, remuneration or other compensation,” including all full-time, part-time or temporary employees.

How Do Employees Earn Sick Leave?

Employees will earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, and will begin accruing those hours on their date of hire or on July 1, 2015, whichever is later.  New hires are not entitled to use earned sick leave until 90 days after hire (although an employer may choose to allow an employee to use sick leave earlier). 

Employees will be permitted to carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick time to the next calendar year.  No matter how much leave is carried over, however, employees may not take more than 40 hours of sick leave in a calendar year.  Moreover, employers will not be required to pay employees for unused accrued sick leave at the end of employment (in contrast to earned but unused vacation pay, which must be paid out at the time of separation).

If an employee misses work for a sick-leave eligible reason but later makes up the time in the same or next pay period, the employee will not have to use earned sick time for the missed time, and the employer would not have to pay for that missed time.  However, employers may not require employees to make up for missed time, or to find a replacement employee for their missed shift.

How Employees May Use Sick Leave

Employees will be able to use their earned sick leave, in increments as small as one hour, to: (1) care for a physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition affecting the employee or the employee’s child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse; (2) attend routine medical appointments of the employee or the employee’s child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse; or (3) address the effects of domestic violence on the employee or the employee’s dependent child. 

What Notice and Documentation is Required?

Employers can require that employees provide certification of the need for sick time if an employee uses sick time for more than 24 consecutively scheduled work hours. Employers may not require certification for a leave of less than 24 hours. However, employers may not delay or deny sick leave because the employer has not received medical certification.

Employees will be required to make a good faith effort to notify the employer in advance of the need for earned sick time, when it is foreseeable.

Employer Posting Requirement

Employers will be required to post in a conspicuous location a yet-to be published notice generated by the Attorney General’s office regarding the right to earned sick time.  The Attorney General will also establish rules concerning employer obligations to make, keep, and preserve sick time records.

Enforcement of the Law

Employers may not interfere with an employee’s right to earned sick time under the law, and may not retaliate against an employee for opposing practices that the employee believes violate the law, or for supporting another employee’s exercise of rights under the law. 

The Attorney General will enforce the law, using the same enforcement procedures applicable to other state wage laws.  The law also allows employees to file law suits to enforce their earned sick time rights and seek mandatory treble (triple) damages and attorney’s fees. 

For more information about this new requirement, please contact a member of the Employment Law Group.

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