Late last week, Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, issued the long-awaited final regulations for the implementation of the Commonwealth’s Earned Sick Time Law. The issuance of the final regulations follows a series of public hearings and information sessions, and comes just in advance of the law’s July 1 effective date.
In addition to providing general guidance for employers as to the application of the Sick Time Law, the final regulations include some important clarifications about accrual, breaks in service, and the conditions under which documentation can be required from employees.
The Sick Time Law provides that all employees—regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, exempt, not-exempt, permanent or temporary—earn sick time at a rate of one hour for every thirty hours worked up to a maximum of forty hours. In recognition of the administrative burden tracking this accrual may impose on some employers, the final regulations give employers the option of providing employees with a lump sum allocation of forty hours of sick time at the beginning of the year. Employers choosing this option will not be required to keep track of employees’ accrual of sick time.
The final regulations also explain how sick time benefits are handled for employees with breaks in service, an issue that is of great importance to employers with temporary workers who may come on and off the employers’ payroll as business needs change. Employees who have a break in service of up to four months will retain their rights to all unused sick time earned prior to the break in service. Employees who have a break in service of more than four months, but less than a year, will retain their rights to unused sick time earned prior to the break, but only if their unused sick time bank exceeds ten hours. Employees returning to work after a break in service of less than one year are not subject to the ninety-day vesting period, and may begin using earned sick time right away. Employees with a break in service of more than twelve months do not retain any of their rights to unused sick time earned before the break in service.
The Sick Time Law provides that employers may only request documentation from an employee justifying the need for sick time when the employee has used sick time for twenty-four consecutively scheduled work hours. In response to employers’ concerns about potential misuse of sick time, the final regulations also allow employers to request documentation under certain other circumstances: for an absence that exceeds three consecutive days; when an employee has four unforeseeable absences in a three-month period (for employees seventeen years old or younger, documentation can be requested after three unforeseeable absences in a three-month period); or for absences that occur within two weeks of a non-temporary employee’s final scheduled workday before termination. The final regulations also make clear that earned sick time may not be used as an excuse for being late to work for a reason other than those for which sick time may be used.
All employers with workers in Massachusetts must bring their policies in compliance with the law by the July 1 effective date, unless they qualify for the “safe harbor” announced by Attorney General Healey earlier this spring, in which case, they will have until January 1, 2016 to modify their existing policies.