On July 1, 2015 the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law took effect implementing Ballot Question 4, which required an employer to provide its employees with sick leave benefits. The act requires an employer with eleven or more employees to provide its employees with 40 hours of PAID sick leave per year. Two of my clients that had 10 or fewer employees did not realize that they were required to provide 40 hours of UNPAID sick leave a year on basically the same terms as paid leave. Frankly, I was unaware of the breadth of the act’s application until an associate of the firm, Kate Buyuk, and I were working on a project related to the act on behalf of one of my clients.

This post is a brief summary and is intended only to alert business owners to the act and some of its requirements. The act and the attorney general’s regulations are detailed and someone familiar with its requirements should at least review an employers’ compliance.   The requirements set forth in the act and regulations are a minimum and an employer’s plan may provide greater benefits. The highlights of the act’s and regulations’ requirements for both paid and unpaid sick leave follow.

Sick leave may be used:

  1. To care for the employee’s child, parent, spouse or parent of a spouse suffering from a physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition which requires home care, professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventive medical care,
  2. To care for the employee’s own physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition which requires home care, professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventive care,
  3. To attend a routine medical appointment for the employee or the employee’s child, spouse, parent or parent of a spouse,
  4. To address the physical, legal or psychological effects of domestic violence,
  5. To travel to an appointment, pharmacy or other location related to the purpose for which the sick leave was taken.

Employers with 11 or more employees must provide PAID sick leave and employers with 10 or fewer employees must provide UNPAID sick leave.

Employees must earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked if their primary place of employment is in Massachusetts, up to a maximum of 40 hours of leave per year. An employee may begin to use accrued sick leave on the 90th day after hire and, thereafter as accrued. Employees may carry-over sick leave, but cannot use more than 40 hours in any year.

The act and attorney general’s regulations contain detailed requirements for employee documentation of sick leave. They also detail the way sick leave may be calculated and who may be a covered “employee.” Additional refinements, however, will be necessary to clarify some unclear areas.

An employer may require an employee to verify in writing that the employee is using sick leave for an approved purpose and the attorney general has adopted an acceptable form. We recommend its use verbatim. There is an “official notice” that should be posted in all Massachusetts workplaces.

The act and regulations provide very detailed requirements for an employer’s plan. In addition to providing requirements for a plan, the act and regulations have prohibitions against retaliatory acts and actions against employees regarding sick leave.

The attorney general was given broad rulemaking and enforcement powers by the act.