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Earned Sick Time For Employees

In November 2014, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question that requires all private sector employers to provide employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave per calendar year. Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1, 2015, employers of 11 or more employees must provide paid sick leave for employees. Employers having less than 11 employees must provide unpaid sick leave for employees. This law applies to full-time, part-time and temporary employees performing work for compensation.

Under the law, an employee earns sick time at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked and can begin using earned sick time 90 days after having begun employment.  Sick time can be used "to care for a physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition affecting the employee or the employee's child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse; to attend routine medical appointments of the employee or the employee's child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse; or to address the effects of domestic violence on the employee or the employee's dependent child."

An employee can carry over up to 40 hours of earned sick time to the following year.  However, an employee cannot use more than 40 hours of earned sick time in a calendar year.  And, unlike accrued but unused vacation time, employers are not required to pay employees for accrued but unused earned sick time upon separation from employment.

If an employee is going to be using earned sick time for more than 24 consecutive hours of work time, the employer may require the employee to provide certification of the need for sick time.  But, an employer cannot require that the certification explain the nature of the illness or the details of any domestic violence.  All that employers may require are medical notes that simply excuse the employee from work.

Employers may not delay or deny sick leave because they have not received the medical certification.  When foreseeable, the employee must make a good faith effort to provide notice of the need to use earned sick time. 

Employers that have their own policies that provide as much paid time off, usable for the same purposes and under the same conditions as the new law will not be required to provide additional sick time. 

Enforcement

The new law provides that it shall be unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of, or attempt to exercise an employee's right to use earned sick time. The Attorney General has the authority to bring both criminal and civil proceedings to enforce the law.  Additionally, employees, after first raising their claims with the Attorney General's Office, can bring their own lawsuits alleging violations of the law.  Employees who prevail can recover compensatory damages as well as a mandatory award of treble damages and attorneys' fees.

Employers' Actions

The Attorney General's Office is expected to publish a Notification of employees' rights to earned time that employers will be required to post in a conspicuous location.  The Attorney General's Office is also expected to issue regulations in the not too distant future.  But, meanwhile, employers should take the following actions:

- Employers should review their current sick leave polices and practices and, if       necessary, update them so they meet the requirements of the new law;

- Employers should put into place a system to track and calculate accrued and used sick time; and

- Employers should train supervisory and managerial employees on the new law's requirements.

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