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. In our prior blog, we examined potential pitfalls and penalties that employers may face when dealing with employee sick time issues. This week’s article explores common misconceptions regarding the law.

Employers have numerous misconceptions regarding the new “sick time” law. Below, we have addressed three of the most common misconceptions.

One mistaken view that was reported in the media (and is widely believed by employers) is that the law does not apply to employers with less than 11 employees. This is incorrect. The law applies to nearly all employers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, excluding the United States government and certain Massachusetts cities and towns. The key difference is that employers with less than 11 employees must provide up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time to employees, while employers with 11 or more employees must provide up to 40 hours of paid sick time to employees to be paid at the employee’s normal hourly pay rate. We addressed this issue in detail in our first blog article on the new sick time law

Another common misconception about the new law is that it only applies if and when an employee is ill. In reality, the new law includes an expansive definition of “sick time” that allows employees to use their accrued time for a wide variety of circumstances, many of which are unrelated to illness. For example, the new law allows employees to use sick time to care for children, parents, or parents of a spouse that are suffering from physical injuries and/or mental illness. Also, the new law allows employees to use sick time to attend their own routine medical appointments and those of their children, parents, and the parents of a spouse. Finally, the new law allows sick time to be used to address the psychological, physical and legal effects of domestic violence. Indeed, some of the allowed uses under the new law may vary greatly from the accepted uses currently in effect at many businesses.

The final misconception is that because the new law goes into effect on July 1, 2015, employers can wait until the summer to begin preparing for the change. This mindset could have significant and detrimental consequences for Massachusetts employers. Businesses need to address issues raised by the new law in January if they treat benefits on a calendar year basis. Our fifth blog article will provide steps employers can take to ensure compliance with the new law once it goes into effect.

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.