A bill just passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate, with uncharacteristic speed and bipartisan support, has been touted as a “grand bargain,” meant to circumvent political wrangling over several contentious ballot questions slated to be put before the voters this fall. The wide-ranging bill establishes paid family and medical leave, raises the minimum wage, and eliminates premium Sunday pay, among other things. The bill now goes to Governor Baker, who is expected to sign the measure into law.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
Assuming that the bill becomes law, Massachusetts will become the seventh state to provide workers with paid family and medical leave. Under the law, eligible employees may take up to twelve weeks of paid family leave, and up to twenty weeks of paid medical leave, subject to a combined maximum of twenty-six weeks of total leave in a year. The amount of pay employees taking leave under this law will receive is determined on a sliding scale based on income, subject to a cap set by the statute. Initially, the maximum amount of benefits will be $850, but each year the cap will be adjusted to a figure that is 64% of the average weekly wages in the state. The benefits provided by this law will be funded through an additional payroll tax of 0.63%, which will be shared by employers and employees. Employers with fewer than 25 employees will not need to pay in, but all employees will have to pay their share of the tax. The state will start collecting the tax next summer, and employees can start receiving the benefits in 2021. Employers will have the option of applying for approval to satisfy their obligations under the statute through a private plan, if the private plan provides at least the same benefits provided for under the statute and meets other requirements.
The law also calls for the state minimum wage to increase incrementally from the current $11 per hour to $15 per hour in 2023. The pace of the increase in the statute is slower than the pace sought by the advocates of the minimum wage ballot question that has been put forward. Once the minimum wage reaches the $15 level, Massachusetts will join California and New York as the states with the highest minimum wages in the country.
Premium Sunday Pay
The statute eliminates a provision in Massachusetts’s “Blue Laws” that provides certain employees, including workers at retail establishments, with time-and-a-half pay for work performed on Sundays.
The governor has until July 1 to sign the bill.