September 28, 2021
6 Things Employers Must Know About the Massachusetts Sick Leave Law

When it comes to paid leave, the Bay State has some very specific laws in place. We went over the basics about the Massachusetts sick leave law previously, where you can get a refresher on what the law is, who is covered, and permitted sick time uses. 

This time, we’re breaking down several other key requirements that employers must be aware of to ensure they comply. After all, you never know when unique and delicate situations might arise. What happens to a rehired employee’s sick leave? How do you manage a request from an employee who is a victim of domestic violence? 

Keep reading for the Massachusetts earned sick time laws regarding: 

  • Cap and rollover allowances
  • Rehiring employees
  • Employer notice requirement
  • Employee notice requirement
  • Requesting sick leave documentation
  • Prohibited practices

1. Massachusetts Sick Leave Cap & Rollover Allowances

Massachusetts sick leave laws do not mean employers must provide unlimited sick time, and employers can set a cap at 40 hours per benefit year and pause further accrual until they use some of their sick leave. While employers are only required to provide 40 hours of sick time per benefit year, they can offer a more generous policy with more sick leave.

Employees who have accrued both paid and unpaid sick leave due to changes in their employer’s size above or below 10 employees may choose to use one or a combination of the two. And when it comes to sick leave rollover, employers must also allow employees to carry up to 40 hours of accrued sick leave from one benefit year to the next.

2. Rehiring Employees & Managing Their Sick Leave Balance

Did you recently rehire a team member after a few weeks or months? Don’t forget about their sick leave balance. If you rehire an employee:

  • Within four months after a separation from employment, you must reinstate all of their previously accrued sick leave and make it available for use on their first day of rehire.
  • Between four and 12 months after separation, you must reinstate all of their previously accrued sick leave and make it available for use on their first day of rehire IF they had accrued 10 or more hours before leaving.

3. Employer Notice Requirement

Covered employers must post notice of Massachusetts’ sick leave laws in a conspicuous place accessible to employees in every location where eligible employees work. Find more guidance on where to post labor law posters.

Employers must also provide either a hard or electronic copy of the notice to all eligible employees or include the policy on earned sick time (or your company’s allowable substitute paid leave policy) in their employee handbook.

Additionally, employers must provide written notice to all eligible employees at least 30 days in advance if their future accrued sick leave will be changing from paid to unpaid or unpaid to paid because of a change in the employer’s size.

4. Employee Notice Requirement

Employers may require employees to provide up to seven days’ notice of sick leave when the need is known that far in advance. If that is not possible, you can require notice of the employee’s need for sick time as soon as reasonable, given the circumstances. This notice requirement must be in writing, so include it in your sick leave policy.

If a worker intends to take sick leave for multiple days, you can require them to submit the expected duration of their leave. If their leave duration is unknown, you can request daily updates of their status (provided by the employee, a spouse, an adult family member, or another responsible party) unless unreasonable.

Employers may establish a reasonable sick leave notification system for staff to use. Still, it must be consistent with their typical communication methods for requesting leave and absences (e.g., email or company intranet). As long as the employee indicates that their sick leave is for a permitted purpose, the employer can’t require the employee to be more specific about the leave.

What about minors? If you suspect an employee under 18 years old is using sick leave for improper purposes, you can confirm their leave purposes with their parent or guardian.

5. Requesting Sick Leave Documentation

Employers are not permitted to ask for information about the illness or details of domestic violence. However, Massachusetts earned sick time law states that you can require additional written documentation supporting the employee’s need for sick leave when:

  • Leave exceeds 24 consecutively scheduled work hours;
  • Leave exceeds three consecutive days on which the employee was scheduled to work;
  • Leave occurs within two weeks of an employee’s final scheduled day of work for the employer, except for temporary employees;
  • An employee has already had four unforeseeable and undocumented absences within three months;
  • An employee under 18 years old has three unforeseeable and documented absences within three months.

You may require documentation signed by a health care provider noting the need for sick time use. In cases of domestic violence, you may request:

  • A restraining order or other similar document issued by a court of competent jurisdiction;
  • A police record related to the abuse;
  • Documentation showing the alleged perpetrator has been convicted of one or more of the offenses listed in Massachusetts Stat. 265, where the victim was a family or household member;
  • Medical documentation of the abuse;
  • A written statement by a counselor, social worker, health worker, member of the clergy, shelter worker, legal advocate, or another professional who helped the employee address the effects of the abuse; or
  • A signed written statement from the employee attesting to the abuse.

Employees must submit the required documentation within seven days after using the earned sick time unless they can show good cause for needing more time to provide the documentation. If an employee fails to provide the required documentation, the employer may:

  • Recoup the sum paid for earned sick time from future pay, as an overpayment (employees must be notified of this practice); and
  • Deny the future use of an equivalent number of hours of accrued earned sick time until documentation is provided but may not otherwise take adverse action.

Employees without health care coverage may provide a signed, written statement stating the need for sick leave, do not have to explain the nature of the illness.

6. Prohibited Practices

According to the Massachusetts sick leave law, employers may not interfere with, restrain, or deny an employee’s exercise of or attempt to exercise any right granted by Massachusetts’ sick leave law. This means employers may not use an employee’s use of sick leave as a negative factor in decision-making for the following: 

  • Evaluation,
  • Promotion,
  • Disciplinary, or
  • Termination,

among other decisions and actions.

It is also illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who oppose practices that they believe violate Massachusetts’ sick leave law or support the exercise of rights by another employee under the sick leave law. This includes but is not limited to employees who have:

  • Filed action against the employer alleging a violation of the law;
  • Instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding against the employer;
  • Provided information related to an inquiry or proceeding against the employer; or
  • Testified in any investigation or proceeding against the employer.

Examples of illegal retaliation include but are not limited to:

  • Refusing to allow employees to use earned sick time;
  • Delaying the payment of used sick time;
  • Terminating an employee;
  • Talking away work hours;
  • Negatively changing the terms or conditions of an employee’s employment;
  • Disciplining an employee under the employer’s attendance policy;
  • Giving an employee an undesirable assignment or schedule change;
  • Giving a false negative reference to a future employer;
  • Reporting an employee to immigration authorities; or
  • Filing false criminal reports about the employee to authorities.

Auditing Your MA Sick Leave Policy & Practices

As an employer, you must understand the ins and outs of the Massachusetts sick leave law to ensure you’re protecting both your organization and the rights of your employees. Of course, you also need to have a clear sick leave policy in place, which should always be in your employee handbook.

Do you need an audit of your sick leave policy and practices? Or perhaps you have encountered specific sick leave situations and need guidance on handling them properly? Contact BlueLion today at 603-818-4131 or to discover how we can help!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.