Effective July 1, 2015, employers must grant employees who work in Massachusetts one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, up to a maximum of 40 hours of sick time each year.  This new law imposes a number of new requirements on employers.

Under the law, employers with 11 or more employees must grant employees up to 40 hours of sick time off with pay each year.  Employers with 10 or fewer employees must also allow employees to take up to 40 hours of sick time off, but without pay.  All employees who receive compensation, including part-time and temporary employees, must be counted to determine how many employees an employer has.

Employees may use that time off to:  (1) care for their own physical or mental illness; (2) care for an ill or injured child, spouse, parent or spouse’s parent; (3) attend routine medical appointments for the employee, his/her child, spouse, parent or spouse’s parent; or (4) address the impact of domestic violence on the employee or his/her dependent child.

Employees begin to accrue sick time immediately upon their employment but are not entitled to use the sick time until they have been employed for 90 calendar days.

Employees may carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick time to the following year, but the law does not require employers to allow employees to use more than 40 total hours of sick time in any year.  In addition, employers are not required to pay employees for their accrued unused sick time upon separation of employment.

Sick time may be used in either hourly increments or the smallest increment the employer uses to calculate time off, whichever is smaller.  Sick time also may be used on an intermittent basis.  Thus, it appears that an employee could use his/her sick time to leave work for an hour or more several times each week, or even daily, for medical appointments.

The law permits employers to require certification from a “health care provider” if the employee is absent for “more than 24 consecutively scheduled work hours”.  Apparently, therefore, an employer cannot require an employee who works eight hours per day to provide documentation supporting his/her absence until the employee has been out of work for three consecutive days.  Employers must accept any “reasonable documentation signed by a health care provider” and may not require the documentation to explain the nature of the employee’s or relative’s illness or any details about the domestic violence.

As usual, the law contains a provision prohibiting any discrimination or retaliation against an employee who exercises his/her rights to sick leave.  It also makes it unlawful for any employer to interfere with, deny or restrain any employee from exercising his/her rights under the law.

Additionally, employers are free to provide more generous sick time, under more generous conditions, than required by the law.
The Attorney General will prepare a notice describing employees’ rights under the new law.  Employers must post that notice in a conspicuous place in every location where employees work.  In addition, employers must give all employees a copy of the notice.

Finally, employers who give their employees paid time off which the employees can use for the reasons described above, in the manner required by the law, are not required to provide additional paid sick time.

THE IMPACT

 

The new sick time law is likely to have a number of consequences for Massachusetts   employers and their policies and leaves some questions unanswered.

 

  • Employers must allow employees to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work.  Many employers have part-time, seasonal or temporary employees who receive no benefits.  The law appears to require employers to grant sick time to those employees.  Employers with more than 10 employees will have to give that time off with pay.
  • Most employers with more than 10 employees give employees paid time off, such as vacation, sick time, personal days, which employees can use for the same reason as the required sick time. However, most paid time off policies state that any time that is not used is lost at the end of the calendar year.  Under the new law, employers will have to allow employees to carry over up to 40 hours of sick time to the following year.
  • Employers with paid time off (“PTO”) policies will have to designate up to 40 hours of PTO time as “sick time” under the law and, as discussed above, allow employees to carry over up to 40 hours of sick time each year.
  • Employers will have to develop a mechanism to determine what time off is covered by the law (similar to use of Family Medical Leave time).  Employers will then have to record all sick time taken by every employee to calculate how much sick leave each employee has used and determine how many hours that employee may carry over to the following year.
  • The law states that employees may use sick time in increments of one hour or less.  However, many employers require employees to use time off in full or half day increments.  Thus, when the law goes into effect, employers will have to allow employees to take the first 40 hours of sick time in increments much smaller than they currently allow.
  • Employees may carry up to 40 hours of unused sick time from one calendar year to the next. However, it is unclear whether that carried over time stops the accrual of additional sick time or whether that carried over time is added to the employee’s total amount of accrued sick time.  For example, if an employee carries 20 hours of sick time over from 2015 to 2016 and uses 40 hours of sick time in 2016, will that employee still have 20 hours of sick time s/he can carry over from 2016 to 2017?

Employers with Massachusetts employees have about seven months to comply with the new law.  The law states that the Attorney General “may” issue regulations interpreting the law.  We hope that such regulations will be forthcoming.

At this point, employers should, first, revise their time off policies to meet the requirements described above.  Second, as soon as the Attorney General releases the language of the notice, employers should post it in all employee locations.  Finally, employers will have to revise their Employee Handbooks to reflect their new time off policies and to include the required notice.

We will inform our clients as soon as the Attorney General releases the notice and will help them revise their policies and handbooks.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about this law or your obligations.