On July 1, 2015, MGL Chapter 149, Section 148C, Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time For Employees law goes into effect, and with it thousands of employees begin accruing time-off rights that were not previously enjoyed.
Who gets sick time off?
The voter approved initiative potentially entitles all non-federal government workers in Massachusetts sick time off from work to care for the employee’s child, spouse, parent, parent of a spouse, or for the employee him or herself. Employees of Massachusetts cities and towns, however, will only be covered by the law if application of the statute is accepted by vote or appropriation of the city or town.
How is it earned?
Covered employees begin accumulating sick time hours on the later of July 1, 2015, or their date of hire – however an employee cannot begin to use accrued sick days until ninety (90) days after the first day of their employment.
One hour of sick time off under the law is earned for every thirty (30) hours worked by an employee. Employees who are exempt from the overtime rules established by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act are assumed to work forty (40) hours a week for purposes of accumulating sick time, unless they work less than forty (40) hours a week in which case the actual hours a week worked govern their accumulation of sick time.
How is it used?
When the sick time is foreseeable, employees are expected to make a good faith effort to give advance notice of use of the intended leave.
Earned sick time can be used to take time off from work to care for the employee’s child, spouse, parent, parent of a spouse, or for the employee him or herself. The sick time can also be used to address the physical, psychological, or legal effect of domestic violence. A physical or mental illness that requires home care or professional medical care creates justification for use of the sick time. Routine medical appointments are also covered by the act, as is preventive medical care. In addition to covering biological, adopted, foster children, stepchildren, and legal wards, the term child includes “a child of a person who has assumed the responsibilities of parenthood.” Similarly, the term parent includes biological, adoptive, foster or step-parent of an employee or employee’s spouse, as well as a “person who assumed the responsibility of parenthood when the employee or employee’s spouse was a child.”
An employee is entitled to use up to forty (40) hours of sick time during any single calendar year. Up to forty (40) hours of earned sick time can be carried over from one calendar year into the next.
Who is entitled to paid sick time?
Employees of employers with eleven (11) or more employees are entitled to paid sick time off under the statute. Earned paid sick time involves compensation at the same hourly rate as the employee earns at the time of the leave. Employees of employers with ten (10) or less employees are also entitled to sick time under the statute, but such time off is unpaid.
Can an employer ask for a doctor’s note?
The statute expressly allows an employer to require certification of the basis of the sick time if earned sick time covers more than twenty four (24) consecutively scheduled work hours, although the employer may not require that the documentation explain the nature of the illness of details of domestic violence. The statute implicitly, although not expressly, forbids an employer from asking for certification to justify the use of earned sick time if the leave covers less than twenty four (24) consecutively scheduled work hours.
Do employers who give paid vacation time have to give paid sick time too?
Employers of eleven (11) or more employees who provide paid time off under a vacation or other paid time off policy, and who provide employees with at least as much paid time off as the employee would have under the Earned Sick Time For Employees law which can be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as the Earned Sick Time For Employees law are not required to provide additional earned paid sick time leave.
Are employees entitled to be paid for unused earned sick time at the end of their employment?
No. The earned sick time, even if paid sick time, is a use-it-or-lose-it entitlement.
How is the law enforced?
After July 1, 2015, it shall be unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise (or attempted exercise) of any right under the Earned Sick Time For Employees law. It will also be unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee because the employee opposed a practice believed to be in violation of the law, or if the employee supports another employee’s exercise of rights under the law.
In addition to authorizing the Massachusetts Attorney General to enforce violations of the law, an employee claiming to be aggrieved by a violation the law may, ninety (90) days after the filing of a complaint with the Attorney General (or sooner if the Attorney General assents in writing), and within three (3) years after the violation, institute civil lawsuit for injunctive relief, damages, lost wages and benefits, costs, reasonable attorney fees, and treble damages as liquidated damages.
Will regulations be issued to clarify the operation of the Earned Sick Time For Employees law?
Eventually. The Massachusetts Attorney General is tasked with creating rules and regulations to carry out the purpose of the law, but as of the date of this posting no regulations have been adopted.
Should you have any questions or require guidance as to the sick leave law or any other employment legislation, please feel free to contact Bennett & Belfort P.C.