As you may have seen, on May 28, 2021, Massachusetts enacted a new paid sick leave benefit, requiring employers to provide up to 40 hours’ paid sick leave for absences related to COVID-19. This new law covers all Massachusetts employers, both large and small. The benefit is temporary, starting on June 7, 2021 and ending on or before September 30, 2021.
During the time that the law applies, it requires all Massachusetts employers to provide paid sick leave for absences related to isolation/quarantine and recovery from COVID, care for a family member with COVID, and getting COVID vaccinations and recovery from any illness as a result of getting vaccinated. Leave time is limited to 40 hours and prorated for employees who work less than 40 hours per week. The sick leave benefit pays up to $850 per week, for which employers can seek reimbursement until the federal funds ($75M) are exhausted.
For employers with fewer than 500 employees, the program will sound familiar, because the law is modeled on the sick leave program of the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act (FFCRA), which required employers to provide leave from April 2020 through end of that calendar year, and then continued funding voluntary participation in 2021. With this new legislation, the leave is again mandatory. It also extends coverage for employers with over 500 employees, and includes coverage for illness from the vaccine.
Despite the expansion, the new law should have limited applicability. With Massachusetts leading the nation in vaccination rates, statewide COVID positivity rates are down to .54% and sinking. Over the next few months, most employees are not likely to have a need for COVID-related leave. For those employees who need time off for vaccinations or who have adverse effects from the vaccine, the time off should generally be no more than a day or two.
A form for employees to request leave is under development, and we anticipate that it will track the FFCRA. Specifically, an employee will be required to represent that any symptoms from vaccination are preventing the employee from working or teleworking. Employers are required to post notice of the new law in the workplace (or through email or a web-based platform for remote workers). Model forms for notice and leave requests are under preparation, and are expected in the coming week.
In sum, while the Massachusetts legislation provides leave for employees to quarantine or recover from COVID, the anticipated need for leave because of COVID infections appears to be mercifully rare. Moreover, vaccine-related illnesses also appear rare, and should be short in duration.