Breathing Room for Some with Implementation of New Sick Time Law

Massachusetts employers scrambling to overhaul their paid sick time policies ahead of new state regulations will get more time, but only if they already offer some kind of paid time off.

The sick time reform law, passed by state voters in a ballot initiative last year, is scheduled to take effect on July 1. The changes will extend sick time to roughly one million workers who currently don’t qualify for any sick time, paid or unpaid.

Amid grumbling from industry groups that the fast-approaching deadline simply doesn’t give businesses enough time to comply, state regulators have agreed to a “safe harbor” provision that will push back the deadline to the end of the year for businesses with existing policies providing for paid time off.

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Under the provision, employers would be considered in compliance with the sick time law if they had a policy in place as of May 1 that allowed at least 30 hours of paid time off this year, according to a statement from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.

The legislature has blocked several efforts to completely postpone implementation of the sick time law, which entitles all workers in the state to at least earn and use unpaid sick time.

Workers at companies or nonprofits with eleven or more employees can earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year, while workers at smaller employers can earn and use up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per calendar year, under the provisions of the ballot law.

In a statement, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said the tweak to the implementation schedule was needed to ensure organizations that already offer earned sick time have ample time to adjust their existing systems without facing any legal penalty. Employers that currently don’t offer any paid time off must still comply with the new law by July 1.

To qualify for the extension, a company’s existing paid time off must be “job protected” leave, subject to the ballot law’s bans on retaliation against employees who use sick time.

“The provision represents a reasonable compromise that will allow employers already offering sick leave some breathing room to implement the new law,” said Richard Lord, president of the trade group Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

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