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Q&A on the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law

Sick time sick leave Massachusetts law

One year ago, on July 1, 2015, the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law went into effect. As of July 1, 2015 (or if you started work after that, on your first date of work) Massachusetts employees began to earn sick time. The law mandates that an employee can earn up to 40 hours in a year. And once earned (or "accrued") an employee must be able to use those earned hours for certain purposes. The following sets out only a few of the very common questions and answers (Q&A) about the law. The law is highly detailed and specific, and the following Q&A is not exhaustive. Contact me for an employment law consultation to talk through your specific situation.

Under the law, how is sick time earned?

Employees earn sick time at the rate of 1 hour per 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. (Note: there is nothing in the law that prevents employers from being more generous in their sick leave policies or pay. The law simply sets a minimum floor as to what must be provided.)

When can I use it?

An employee can start using it 90 days after her first day of work.

How can I use it?

The smallest increment of sick time that may be used is 1 hour. Earned sick time may only be used for certain purposes, including:

  • to care for an employee's child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse;

  • to care for him or herself;

  • to attend a routine medical appointment for his child, spouse, parent, parent of a spouse, or himself;

  • to address the effects of domestic violence; or

  • to travel to and from the location related to the purpose for which the time was taken.

Is it paid? When?

Whether or not an employer must pay for the earned sick leave when used turns on the size of the employer. For employers with 11 or more employees, sick time must be paid. For employers with 1 to 10 employees, sick time may be unpaid. Sometimes, determining the actual size of the employer can be tricky -- contact me to talk through your personal situation.

Generally, employees are to be paid what they would have been paid if they had worked and in the same pay period as regular pay. Employees are not required to be paid at an overtime or premium rate when using earned sick time.

What if I work in multiple states including Massachusetts?

To be eligible, your primary place of work must be Massachusetts. That said, if your primary place of work is Massachusetts, then all hours worked in-state or out-of-state are included in assessing your working hours for purposes of earning sick time under this law.

There are many factors used to determine one's primary place of work for purposes of this law. For example, an employee who through an arrangement with his or her employer telecommutes to a Massachusetts work site from outside of Massachusetts has, for purposes of this law, Massachusetts as his or her primary place of work.

Again this law can be highly fact specific. Contact me to talk through your personal situation.

Am I eligible if I'm working part-time as opposed to full-time?

Yes. The law does not distinguish between those who work full-time, part-time, or on a seasonal or temporary basis.

Does the earned sick time roll over?

An employee who has accrued but not used sick time of up to 40 hours must be allowed to roll it over into the next year unless the employer provides 40 hours up front at the beginning of the year or has an unlimited sick leave policy.

What kind of notice can an employer require of an employee who wants to use his or her earned sick time?

Except in an emergency, employees must provide advance notice of sick leave absence.

Similarly, employers may require employees to use reasonable notification systems to request the leave. During multi-day absences, an employer may require notification on a daily basis from the employee or the employee’s surrogate.

Generally, an employer may only require written documentation from a health care provider in the case of an absence of more than 24 consecutive hours or three consecutive work days.

Employers in certain industries with specific safety concerns may require a “fitness for duty” certification before an employee is cleared to return to work.

In the case of use for domestic violence-related reasons, employers may never require, as a condition of granting, using, or verifying earned sick time, that an employee provide documentation to explain the nature of his or her illness or the details of domestic violence.

Can I be fired for using my earned sick leave?

Employers cannot retaliate against employees for exercising rights under the law, including requesting and using sick leave; filing a complaint for violations; or telling others about the law.

Retaliation includes any threat, discipline, discharge, demotion, suspension, or reduction in employee hours, or any other adverse employment action against any employee for exercising or attempting to exercise any right guaranteed under the law.

As mentioned several times, this law, like many employment laws, turns on many facts. Contact me for an employment law consultation to talk through your personal situation.

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