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Massachusetts Becomes the Latest Jurisdiction to Require Paid Sick Leave

Written by George Patterson

Massachusetts voters recently approved a ballot initiative amending the Commonwealth’s labor statute to require employers to provide workers with up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.  The new law follows the enactment of similar statewide measures in California and Connecticut and city ordinances in various municipalities across the country, including New York City.

The law requires employers with 11 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year.  Employees who are classified as exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime requirements are assumed to work 40 hours per week for purposes of calculating earned sick time, unless their normal work week is less than 40 hours.  Companies with fewer than 11 employees must provide unpaid sick time on an equivalent basis.

Qualifying reasons for taking sick time under the law include: (1) caring for a child, spouse, parent or spouse’s parent who is suffering from a physical or mental illness; (2) attending to the employee’s own physical or mental illness, diagnostic care or preventative care; (3) attending routine medical appointments of the employee or the employee’s family members; and (4) addressing the psychological, physical or legal effects of domestic violence.

Employees begin accruing earned sick time on the law’s effective date or their date of hire, whichever is later, but are not entitled to use any earned sick time until they have been employed for 90 days.  Additionally, although employees may carry over up to 40 hours of sick time from one year to the next, employers are not required to pay employees for unused accrued sick time and employees are not entitled to use more than 40 hours of sick time in any single year.  The carry over requirement presumably is intended to prevent employees who have “banked” earned sick days from a previous year from having to wait until they accrue additional sick time before taking sick leave in a subsequent year.

Employers whose current paid time off (PTO) policies satisfy the amended statute’s minimum leave and accrual obligations are not required to provide additional sick time in response to the new law.  Moreover, employers may require employees to provide documentation from a health care provider for periods of sick time covering more than 24 consecutively scheduled hours of work.  The law also mandates that employers post notices in the workplace informing employees of their sick leave rights in a form to be issued by the Attorney General and authorizes employees to bring civil actions to recover damages for any violations of the statute.

The law becomes effective July 1, 2015, thus providing Massachusetts employers with a reasonable period to bring their existing policies into compliance.  Although many employers’ policies will already contain sufficiently generous PTO provisions to fulfill the new law’s requirements, employers should consult counsel to ensure technical compliance and see that any necessary adjustments to policies are made in the most cost effective way possible.

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