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The Basics Of Massachusetts Earned Sick Time

Published:  April 18, 2016


  • Do all employers have to provide earned sick time? How much time must they give to eligible employees?

All employers, regardless of the number of employees, must provide up to 40 hours of earned sick time to eligible employees.  For employers with eleven (11) or more employees, earned sick time must be paid.  For employers with fewer than eleven (11) employees, earned sick time may be unpaid.


  • Which employees get to take earned sick time?

Full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary employees, whose primary place of employment is in Massachusetts, are entitled to accrue and use earned sick time. 


  • For what purposes can earned sick time be used?

An employee can use earned sick time if he or she has to miss work for any of the following reasons:

(1)     to 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;

(2)     to 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;

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

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

(5)     travel to and from an appointment, a pharmacy or other location related to the purpose for which the time is taken.


  • How does earned sick time accrue?

Employees must earn a minimum of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a cap of 40 hours per benefit year.   

Employees that are exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act are assumed to work 40 hours in each work week for purposes of earning sick time.  However, if their normal work week is less than 40 hours, earned sick time will accrue based on that normal work week.


  • How can earned sick time be used?

Employees hired on or after July 1, 2015, begin accruing sick time hours on their first date of actual work and may begin to use any accrued earned sick time on their 90th day of employment.  On and after the 90th day, employees may use earned sick time as it accrues.

Employees who have been employed for at least 90 days as of July 1, 2015 (meaning their first dates of actual work occurred on or before April 2, 2015), may use earned sick time as it accrues.

The smallest amount of sick time that an employee can use is one hour.  For uses beyond one hour, employees may use earned sick time by the hour or by smaller increments as permitted by the employer’s time and attendance system.


  • Can employers maintain pre-existing sick time/paid time off policies?

Yes.  Employers may maintain their own sick leave or paid time off policies as long as all employees can use at least 40 hours of that time (or a lesser amount if the employee might earn less under the earned sick time law) for the same purposes, under the same conditions and with the same job protections as they would get under the earned sick time law.


  • What can an employer do if the employee is suspected of abuse of earned sick time?

If an employee is exhibiting a clear pattern of taking leave on days just before or after a weekend, vacation or holiday, an employer may discipline the employee for misuse of earned sick time (unless the employee provides verification of authorized use of earned sick time).

If an employee is found to commit fraud or abuse by engaging in some activity that is not consistent with the permissible reasons for use of earned sick time, the employer may discipline the employee.


  • What notice must employees provide of their intent to use earned sick time?

An employee must notify the employer before using earned sick time, except in an emergency. 

For foreseeable absences, the employer can have a written policy requiring up to seven days’ notice (unless the employee learns of the need to use earned sick time in a shorter period). 

For unforeseeable absences, “reasonable” notice is required.  What is “reasonable” will vary depending on the circumstances. 


  • Can an employer require documentation to substantiate the use of earned sick time?

An employer can require documentation for an employee’s use of earned sick time when the leave:

  • exceeds 24 consecutively scheduled work hours;
  • exceeds three consecutive days on which the employee was scheduled to work;
  • occurs within two weeks prior to an employee’s final scheduled day of work before termination of employment (except in the case of temporary workers); or
  • occurs after four unforeseeable and undocumented absences within a three-month period.


If you have any questions about the Massachusetts earned sick time law, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal, P.C.