Mandatory Paid Sick Time- Massachusetts Voters Say “Yes”

By Jennifer Belli

On election day, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative requiring employers to provide sick time to their employees.  Absent legislative repeal, the mandatory sick time law will become effective on July 1, 2015.  Organizations with eleven or more employees will be required to provide paid sick time, while organizations with fewer than eleven employees must provide unpaid sick time.  Employers should review their sick time or PTO policies in the coming months to ensure compliance by the July 1, 2015 deadline.  Employers who meet the specific requirements of the new law (including those described below) in a PTO, vacation or other paid leave policy do not need to provide a separate sick time entitlement.

The key parts of the mandatory sick time law are, in summary:

  • Employees can earn and use up to 40 hours of sick time per calendar year;
  • Employees earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked (with a presumption that exempt employees work 40 hours per week unless their normal workweek is less);
  • Employees can carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick time from year to year, but may not use more than 40 hours per year;
  • Employees can use earned sick time to miss work for three reasons: (1) their own or a close relative’s (child, spouse, parent or parent-in-law) medical condition; (2) their own or a close relative’s routine medical appointments; or (3) addressing effects of domestic violence on themselves or dependent children;
  • Current employees can begin using sick time as soon as it is earned, but new employees must wait until 90 days after hire;
  • Employees can use sick time in one-hour increments or any smaller increment that the employer’s payroll system uses to account for time off;
  • Employers can require certification from a health care provider when an employee uses more than 24 consecutive hours of sick time, but employers cannot require detailed documentation, nor can they delay the taking of sick time until certification has been received;
  • Earned sick time need not be paid out upon termination of employment;
  • Employers must post notice of the mandatory sick time law in the workplace, using a poster to be prepared by the Attorney General; and
  • Employers may not discipline, terminate or otherwise retaliate against an employee for using or requesting sick time.

The new sick time law will be enforced both by the Attorney General and by private lawsuit.  The penalties for violations are steep, including automatic treble (triple) damages and attorneys’ fees for employees who win a private lawsuit.

For the full text of the mandatory sick time law, see the website of the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, click here.  For the full text of the remedies provisions, click here and here.