Massachusetts New “Earned Sick Time” Law

Are you or your business ready for the new sick leave law? Beginning July 1, 2015, Massachusetts will require employers with 11 or more employees to provide paid sick leave for all employees— including part-time employees. Employers with fewer than 11 employees must provide the same amount of sick leave, but are not required to pay for it. The law does not apply to employees employed by cities and towns unless the town accepts it by vote or appropriation.

The new law was passed by voters on November 4, 2014, in Ballot Measure No. 4, “Earned Sick Time for Employees.”, by a margin of about 60% to 40%.

When can employees use earned sick leave?

Beginning July 1, 2015, sick leave must be earned at a minimum rate of one hour per 30 hours worked, beginning immediately upon hire. Employers must allow employees to earn at least 40 hours of sick leave time annually. The new law does not supersede more generous paid sick leave policies or benefit plans.

Employees may use their earned sick leave for a variety of reasons:

  1. to care for a physical or mental illness
  2. to care for sick family members
  3. to attend medical appointments
  4. to address the physical or legal effects of domestic violence

Massachusetts also has a new domestic violence leave law that can require employers to provide leave for employees to address domestic violence issues.

How can employers limit employees’ use of earned sick leave?

Employers may prohibit employees from using the leave until they have worked for 90 days. Employers may also limit earned sick leave to 40 hours annually, but must allow employees to carryover unused leave into the next year. Employers may limit employees to using no more than 40 hours of sick leave annually.

When the use of sick leave is foreseeable, an employer may require that employees make a good faith effort to provide notice of this need to the employer in advance.

Employers do not have to pay employees for unused sick time at the end of their employment

Can an employer ask for a doctor’s note or other “proof” of sickness or need?

An employer may require certification only when a period of sick leave covers more than 24 consecutively scheduled work hours. Any reasonable documentation signed by a health care provider indicating the need for earned sick time taken shall be deemed acceptable certification for absences. Employers may not require documentation explaining the nature of an illness or the details of domestic violence.

What other rights do employees have in using their earned sick time?

Employers may not require employees to work additional hours to make up for missed time, or to find a replacement employee. Employers are also prohibited from using the taking of sick leave as a negative factor in any employment action, including promotion, termination, or discipline.

If an employee misses work for a reason eligible for earned sick time, but agrees to make up the hours or shifts in the same or next pay period, the employee does have to use earned sick time for the missed time, and the employer need not pay for the missed time.

What should employers do to prepare for the new law to go into effect?

In the near future, the Attorney General will release a notice that explains employees’ rights. Employers must post this in a conspicuous place, and provide each employee with a copy. Employers should also put a system in place to track and calculate earned and used sick leave. As of now, the Attorney General has not yet provided interpretive guidance on the new law, so employers should be watchful for the release of the required notice and additional guidance.

This update is for general informative purposes. If you have questions about a specific employment situation, contact the attorneys at Hutchins Law, P.C.

The purpose of this article is to inform our clients of developments in the law and to provide information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or to assume a client relationship. The content of this article could be considered advertising under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Copyright © 2012 Hutchins Law, P.C. All Rights Reserved.