Understanding the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law for Employers
Understanding the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law
Starting July 1, 2015, Massachusetts employers must be aware of the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law, which grants various benefits to employees, including part-time and temporary workers. While employees can accrue up to five days of sick time per year, it's essential for employers to understand the law's provisions and ensure compliance in the workplace.
Earning Sick Time
Under this law, every Massachusetts employee must earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Full-time employees can accumulate up to five days of sick time in approximately 30 weeks. Part-time employees accrue sick time more slowly, but it begins accumulating immediately. Employers should note that salaried employees are considered to work 40 hours a week for sick time accrual purposes.
Employers are also 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 flexibility in structuring earned sick time policies. If employees accrue time based on hours worked, up to 40 unused hours must roll over into the following year. However, if an employer grants all employees 40 hours at the beginning of the year, unused time doesn't need to roll over.
Usage of Sick Time
It's essential for employers to recognize that sick time can be used for various reasons, including illness, medical appointments, or caring for sick family members, such as children, spouses, or parents. It can also be used to address the effects of domestic violence, such as meetings with the District Attorney's office.
When Sick Time Accrues
Employees start accruing one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked as soon as they begin their job. While employers may prohibit the use of 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, including part-timers, must provide paid earned sick time. This requirement applies if there were 11 or more employees during any consecutive 16-week period in the year. This significant change affects businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, that may not have been accustomed to paid sick time.
This law applies to nearly every employee in Massachusetts, irrespective of their 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 adverse actions against employees for taking sick leave time due to sickness or to care for a family member. Even when not required to pay for the time, employers cannot terminate or discipline employees for such absences. However, chronic absenteeism, personal errands, or unexplained absences not covered by the law may still lead to discipline. Employers have the right to request a doctor's note for absences exceeding three consecutive days due to illness and reasonable advance notice for taking sick time if circumstances allow.
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Addressing Violations of the Earned Sick Time Law
The Earned Sick Time Law falls under the Massachusetts Wage Act, which means that employees can report violations to the Attorney General or file a private lawsuit if their rights have been infringed upon. Violations may result in triple damages, covering the employee's attorney's fees and costs. Damages for unpaid sick time are calculated based on the hours missed multiplied by the employee's hourly wage. For salaried employees, the hourly wage is determined by dividing the weekly salary by the usual number of hours worked per week. If an employee is terminated for using earned sick time, more substantial damages may apply. Employees who believe their rights under the Earned Sick Time Law have been violated should file a complaint with the Attorney General to obtain a "right to sue" letter before pursuing legal action.
Key Points for Employers to Remember
- Understand that healthcare attendance for employees or their immediate family is a protected activity in Massachusetts.
- Employers with 11 or more employees must provide paid earned sick time, up to 40 hours per year, even if employees have irregular hours.
- Avoid retaliating against employees for using earned sick time, as it can lead to legal consequences.
- Violations of the Earned Sick Time Law are considered violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act, potentially resulting in triple damages and covering the employee's legal fees if they prevail.
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