Voter Initiative Leads to New Sick Leave Rights for All Massachusetts Employees

Passage of the sick leave law by voters on November 4 will have tangible effects on virtually all Massachusetts employers. Though the statute might not require companies that already have written sick leave policies to change things very much, its varied provisions will nonetheless require a careful review of those policies to ensure statutory compliance. Employers who don’t now have formal sick leave rules will need to adopt them by July 1, 2015, when the statute will take effect.

As of that date, all employers must provide for the accrual of sick leave at the rate one hour for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. Companies with 11 or more workers must pay employees at their regular hourly rates when time is used; those with 10 or fewer need not do so. Employees are entitled to begin using accrued sick time 90 days after accrual begins (July 1, 2015 or the first day of employment, whichever occurs first). Though workers can carry sick time over from year to year, employers are not required to permit them to use more than 40 hours in a calendar year. Unlike vacation pay, earned but unused sick leave need not be paid out when an employee leaves the job.

Earned sick time generally can be used in increments of one hour. When an absence exceeds 24 consecutive hours, employers can require medical certification. The leave can be used for any of four prescribed reasons: the employee’s own physical or mental illness; the illness of a child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse; to attend routine medical appointments of covered persons; or to address the psychological, physical or legal effects of domestic violence.

Denying or interfering with an employee’s sick leave rights is, of course, illegal under the statute, which will be administered by the Massachusetts Attorney General. The law will take effect as a new provision under the Massachusetts Wage Act and, as a result, violations will be punishable by the Act’s harsh penalties, including triple damages and legal fee shifting.

Employers should review current policies to ensure compliance with the new law’s requirements and, where necessary, implement written sick leave policies. All will be required to maintain adequate records to demonstrate compliance with the new statute.