Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law: Your Guide to Employee Benefits
Understanding the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law
Starting July 1, 2015, all Massachusetts employees, including part-time and temporary workers, became entitled to earn sick time. While you can accrue up to five days per year, this may not be enough for serious health issues, but it's a significant benefit for many workers and their families.
Earning Sick Time
Every Massachusetts employee must earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Full-time employees can reach the maximum of five days in approximately 30 weeks. Part-time employees accrue sick time more slowly, but it begins accumulating immediately. You can also use sick time in increments, tracking only the hours you use. Salaried employees are considered to work 40 hours a week for sick time accrual.
Employers are required to provide the Attorney General's Notice of Employee Rights, which should be displayed where all employees can see it.
Rollover of Sick Time
Employers have choices in structuring earned sick time. If employees accrue time based on hours worked, up to 40 unused hours must roll over into the following year. Alternatively, if an employer grants all employees 40 hours at the start of the year, unused time doesn't need to roll over.
Usage of Sick Time
Sick time isn't limited to illness. You can also use it for medical appointments or to care for sick family members, including children, spouses, or parents. It's also available for dealing with the effects of domestic violence, such as meetings with the District Attorney's office.
When Sick Time Accrues
You start accruing one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked as soon as you begin your job. While an employer may prohibit using sick time during the first 90 days of employment, it continues to accrue during this period.
Employer Responsibility for Payment
Employers with 11 or more employees must pay for earned sick time, counting all employees, including part-timers. The requirement applies if there were 11 or more employees during any consecutive 16-week period in the year. This significant change affects certain businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, that weren't accustomed to paid sick time. Previously, employees who called out sick wouldn't earn any wages for that day. Now, as long as there are 11 or more employees, the employer must pay for the earned sick time.
This law applies to nearly every employee in Massachusetts, irrespective of full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal status. Exemptions include municipal employees (unless their city or town has adopted the act's provisions) and federal government employees.
Protection From Retaliation
Employers cannot take any action against you for taking sick leave time, whether paid or unpaid, due to sickness or to care for a family member. This includes parents who occasionally miss work for a sick child or a doctor's appointment. Even when not required to pay for the time, employers cannot fire or discipline you for such absences. However, chronic absenteeism, personal errands, or unexplained absences not covered by the law may still lead to discipline.
Employers can ask for a doctor's note if you're absent for more than three consecutive days due to illness. They can also request reasonable advance notice for taking sick time if circumstances allow.
Addressing Violations of the Earned Sick Time Law
The Earned Sick Time Law is part of the Massachusetts Wage Act, which empowers you to report violations to the Attorney General or file a private lawsuit. If you prove a violation, you may be entitled to triple damages and have your attorney's fees and costs covered. Violations related to unpaid sick time would result in damages calculated based on the hours missed multiplied by your hourly wage. For salaried employees, the hourly wage is determined by dividing the weekly salary by the usual number of hours worked per week. More substantial damages may apply if you're terminated for using earned sick time.
If you believe your rights under the Earned Sick Time Law have been violated, file a complaint with the Attorney General to obtain a "right to sue" letter before pursuing legal action.
Key Points to Remember
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