On November 4, 2014 Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Ballot Question 4, approving a new law granting employees significant rights to earn and take sick time and imposing new burdens on employers. Last week, we examined the issue of how the new law applies to various Massachusetts employers. This week’s article explores the circumstances under which employees may use their earned sick time under the new law.

Question 4 creates new obligations for employers to provide employees with leave for sick time. Under the new law, employees can use sick time to cover a wide variety of events and circumstances. Employees will be allowed to use sick time in many situations where employers may not have allowed it in the past and which do not actually involve the employee being sick.

Specifically, the new law requires employers to provide sick time for employees to:

(1) care for the employee’s child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse, who is suffering from a physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition that requires home care, professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventative medical care; or

(2) care for the employee’s own physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition that requires home care, professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventative medical care; or

(3) attend the employee’s routine medical appointment or a routine medical appointment for the employee’s child, spouse, parent, or parent of spouse; or

(4) address the psychological, physical or legal effects of domestic violence.

Employees are, to the extent possible, required to make a “good faith effort” to give advance notice that sick time will be used. Employers may require certification of the need for sick time when an earned sick time period covers more than 24 consecutively scheduled work hours. However, employers cannot condition payment for paid sick time, or delay approval of sick time, upon receipt of such certification, and may not require that the certification explain the nature of the illness or the details of any domestic violence. There are severe penalties for violation of the sick time law such that we encourage employers to avoid asking prying questions or conditioning approval of sick time requests upon obtaining a doctor’s note. We will address potential penalties in our third article next week.

The new statute appears to overlap with certain portions of the Commonwealth’s domestic violence leave law passed in August 2014, which requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide at least 15 days of leave to employees for addressing the impacts of domestic violence. Under that law, the employer is free to determine whether the leave will be paid or unpaid. Notably, the domestic violence leave law requires an employee to first exhaust all annual or vacation leave, personal leave and sick leave unless the employer allows otherwise

Please read Part III: Traps for Unwary Employers concerning the new sick time law and its effect on Massachusetts businesses. If you have questions about Question 4, changes to employee sick time laws, or about any other employment law issues, please contact Attorney Michael P. Doherty, Andrew M. Kepple or one of our other employment attorneys at 508 541-3000.