Readers are probably aware that last year, Massachusetts voters approved a new sick leave law that went into effect on July 1, 2015. Many employers with preexisting leave policies, however, took advantage of the so-called “safe harbor” provision in the law and its implementing regulations that allowed those employers to delay full implementation until January 1, 2016, as long as they complied with certain general provisions of the law. This safe harbor expires on January 1, 2016—so employers that relied on the safe harbor rules must now put in place new policies to comply with the sick leave law. 

We have outlined the law’s major highlights below. Please note, however, that this law has many unique requirements and the Massachusetts attorney general has issued detailed regulations governing the implementation of this new mandatory benefit. 

Paid and Unpaid Sick Time

Employers of 11 or more employees must provide paid sick leave to eligible employees. Smaller employers must still provide sick leave, but such time may be unpaid. 

Accrual

  • Employees must accrue a minimum of 1 hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours of work performed (regardless of the employee’s status as full time or part time), up to 40 hours for the year.
  • Employees may use 40 hours of accrued sick leave per year.
  • Employers may choose to cap accrual and use of sick time at 40 hours per year.
  • Employers may opt to provide employees with lump-sum sick time at the beginning of the year to avoid having to administer accruals.
  • Sick leave can be combined with existing paid time off policies, assuming the policies otherwise meet the requirements under the new law.
  • Employees must accrue leave beginning on their first day of work, but may be required to complete 90 days of employment prior to using the leave.

Reasons for Sick Leave

Employees may use earned sick time for the following reasons:

  1. To care for the employee’s immediate family member (child, spouse, parent, or parent-in-law) who is suffering from a physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition that requires home care, professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventative care;
  2. To care for the employee’s own physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition that requires home care, professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventative medical care;
  3. To attend to the employee’s routine medical appointments or those of an immediate family member;
  4. To address the psychological, physical, or legal effects of domestic violence; or
  5. To travel to and from an appointment, pharmacy, or other location related to the other covered purposes.

Minimum Increment of Sick Time to Be Used

Employers must allow the initial use of sick time in a minimum increment of one hour. After the employee has used one hour of sick time, he or she may take sick time in the smallest increment that the employer’s payroll system utilizes to account for absences or other time.

Notice to Employers

Employees must provide advanced notice of the need to take earned sick time when the use of such time is foreseeable. Employers may require written documentation of the need to take earned sick time only under certain circumstances, including when the use of earned sick time spans more than 24 consecutively scheduled work hours. The employer may not require that such documentation provide the details or the nature of the medical circumstances or domestic violence that necessitated the time off.

Carry Over and Pay Out

Employees may carry over up to 40 hours of earned but unused sick time to the following year. However, there is no obligation to allow sick time to carry over when the employer provides at least 40 hours of sick time available for use at the beginning of the following year. Employers obligated to provide paid earned sick time need not pay out any earned but unused sick time upon termination of employment.

Notice to Employees

Employers must provide notice to employees of their rights under the law. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s model posting provides an example of proper notice under the law.