HR Management & Compliance

‘Safe harbor’ available for Massachusetts paid sick time law

The Massachusetts attorney general has announced a “safe harbor” provision that may provide relief to at least some employers covered by the state’s new earned sick time law.

The law, which voters approved in the November 4, 2014, election, takes effect on July 1, but the safe harbor gives some employers until January 1, 2016, to come into full compliance.

Under the new law, employers with at least 11 employees must allow their workers to accrue paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, for a maximum of 40 hours a year. Employers with fewer than 11 employees must allow them to accrue and use up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year.

Under the safe harbor, covered employers will be deemed to be in compliance with the law for a six-month transition period if they have a policy in place as of May 1, 2015, that provides at least 30 hours of paid time off (PTO) to employees for the 2015 calendar year. The safe harbor means those employers don’t need to worry about providing additional paid leave or developing an accrual system until the beginning of next year, according to an alert from the Massachusetts offices of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., the law firm that edits Massachusetts Employment Law Letter.

Even with the safe harbor, employers must take care not to retaliate against or otherwise interfere with an employee who requests and/or uses available PTO after July 1, 2015. “This means that many employer policies that were permissible before July 1, including policies related to attendance, occurrences, notice protocol, and holiday pay, for example, may still need to be changed prior to the law’s effective date,” according to the Skoler, Abbott & Presser notice.

Also, the new law requires employers to provide 30 hours of PTO to part-time, temporary, and per diem staff as well as full-time employees. If those employees currently aren’t covered under an employer’s PTO program, the employer can either change its policy to offer 30 PTO hours to the employees not currently qualified for paid leave or they can comply with the new law by beginning accrual for those workers at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, beginning July 1.

The Skoler, Abbott & Presser notice says the latter approach may be more practical for employers with lots of part-time and/or per diem workers who would not otherwise accrue 30 hours of earned sick time between July 1 and December 31.

Employers able to operate under the safe harbor provision must adjust their PTO policy to comply with all provisions of the new law by January 1, 2016. Employers that don’t meet the safe harbor’s requirements must comply with all provisions of the new law by July 1, 2015.

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