By Audrey LaRowe Nee, Esq.
This blog post is by Attorney Audrey Nee who works with me at my office in Duxbury. This blog post covers the new earned sick time law which became effective July 1, 2015. If you have employees it is important that you understand this new law so please take the time to read this important post.
In November, 2014, Massachusetts voters approved a new law requiring all Massachusetts employers to provide for up to 40 hours of earned sick leave. If an employer has 11 or more employees, the employer must provide those employees with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave each year; employers with 10 or fewer employees are still covered by the law and must provide for up to 40 hours of unpaid sick leave. Compliance with this technical law, which became effective on July 1, 2015, can be tricky and violations can carry substantial consequences. Therefore, it is imperative that employers familiarize themselves with this law, which is briefly summarized below.
Employees may use their earned sick leave (whether paid or unpaid) (1) to care for a child, parent, spouse or parent of a spouse; (2) to care for the employee’s own health; (2) to attend to a medical appointment; or (4) to address the psychological, physical or legal effects of domestic violence. Employers may not interfere with an employee’s use of earned sick time and may not retaliate against the employee for using that earned sick time. Sick time accrues at the rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked and begins to accrue from the first day of work. Accrued sick time may not be used until the 90th calendar day following the employee’s hire date.
Employees may carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick time to the following calendar year but they may not use more than 40 hours of sick time in any one calendar year.
Where the need to use earned sick time is foreseeable, employees are required to make a good faith effort to provide advance notice of that need. Employers may require up to 7 days’ advance notice if the employee has a pre-scheduled time they plan use earned sick time. If an employee uses more than 24 consecutive hours of earned sick time, the employer may require written verification that the employee used earned sick time for allowable purposes. If the use of sick time occurs within 2 weeks prior to the employee’s final scheduled day of work or occurs after 4 unforeseeable and undocumented absences over a 3 month period, the employer may require documentation for the use of earned sick time. The employer may not require that the documentation divulge the nature of the illness or the details of any domestic violence resulting in the use of earned sick time.
Transition Year / Safe Harbor for Employers with Existing Policies
Because the law takes effect mid-year, employers are not required to provide more than 40 hours of earned sick time for 2015 and any paid leave given prior to July 1st will be credited. Employers having a paid sick leave policy as of May 1, 2015 will be considered in compliance with the new law until January 1, 2016 so long as that policy provided that full-time employees could earn and use up to 30 hours of paid leave during 2015 and provided that, as of July 1, 2015, employees not previously covered by the policy either accrued paid time off at the same rate of accrual as covered full-time employees or received a pro-rated lump sum allocation.
Consequences for Non-Compliance
Violations of this law can carry very significant fines (up to $25,000 per violation) as well as up to treble damages in the event of a civil suit commenced by employees. Therefore, it is important that employers develop and implement a compliant sick leave policy.
Additional information about the new sick leave law including the notice that employers are required to provide to employees is available at www.Mass.gov/ago/EarnedSickTime
If you have any questions about this new earned sick time law or any other business issues please call us at 781-934-8200.