Part V: Suggestions for Complying with the New “Sick Time” Law
On November 4, 2014, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Ballot Question 4, approving a new law that imposes significant obligations on employers to provide earned sick time to employees. Last week, we examined some common misconceptions employers have about the new sick time law.
As we noted in prior articles, the new sick time law goes into effect on July 1, 2015. Employers should begin taking measures to ensure they are ready to comply with the law when it becomes effective. Employers who fail to comply with the law will be subject to significant penalties and liability.
First, employers should review their existing sick time and leave policies to determine what changes, if any, they will be required to make. Notably, not all existing sick time policies will have to be changed. Some existing plans may already offer benefits at a level that complies with the statute. Employers should speak to their legal counsel to determine whether existing plans already comply with the new law.
Also, employers should consider developing procedures for tracking employee sick time accrual and use, as well as a system for processing sick time pay (if applicable). As we described in prior articles, the new law provides numerous acceptable uses for sick time. Consequently, employers may find it difficult to accurately track what time an employee has used for “sick time” purposes and what time was used for other purposes such as vacation leave. Existing practices simply may not be sufficient.
Additionally, employers may consider creating a system for obtaining advance notice of anticipated sick time use. Under the new law employees are supposed to make a “good faith” effort to give advance notice of anticipated sick time use. For example, if an employee plans to use sick time for attending a child’s scheduled medical appointment (which is an acceptable sick time use under the new law), the employee should make a good faith effort to provide advance notice of the absence. Employers who receive advance notice of anticipated sick time use can adjust staffing levels to accommodate the absence. However, employers are cautioned not to penalize employers who properly use their sick time. Furthermore, employers must be careful to not require employees to provide documentation of sick time use in any way that violates the statute.
Finally, employers should post information regarding the new law and revise existing employee manuals and/or handbooks to reflect any changes they make to existing sick time policies and practices. Copies of revised policies, handbooks, and employee manuals should be provided to all employees. All of these changes will take time, resources, and careful consideration before they can successfully be put into place. Therefore, businesses should begin preparing now to avoid making costly mistakes after the law becomes effective.
If you have questions about any of the issues we covered in this article, or the prior articles concerning the new sick time law please contact Attorney Michael P. Doherty, Andrew M. Kepple or one of our other employment attorneys at 508 541-3000.