Just hours before expiration, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation extending the mandate for state employers to continue providing emergency paid leave related to COVID-19. These COVID-19 paid leave obligations will now continue until April 1, 2022.
MA Extends COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave: A Review
The law covers all public and private employers in Massachusetts. Employers are required to provide up to 40 hours of paid emergency leave to employees who have a primary place of employment is in the Commonwealth and unable to work due to COVID-19. The amount of paid leave an employee is entitled to depend on the number of hours they work in a week:
- Employees who regularly work 40 or more hours per week can receive 40 hours of emergency COVID-19 paid leave.
- Employees regularly working fewer than 40 hours per week will receive emergency COVID-19 paid equal to the number of average hours that the employee works over a 14-day period.
- Employees working varying hours from week to week will receive emergency COVID-19 paid leave equivalent to the average number of hours they worked each week over the six-month period immediately preceding the date on which they take the emergency paid leave. If the employee did not work a six-month period prior to taking leave, then they can receive leave based on a reasonable expectation of the average hours per week than they would normally be scheduled to work.
Employees may use COVID-19 paid leave for the following qualifying reasons:
- Self-isolating and caring for oneself because of the employee’s COVID-19 diagnosis.
- Seeking or obtaining a medical diagnosis, care, or treatment for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Obtaining immunization related to COVID-19 or recovering from an injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization.
- Caring for a family member who is self-isolating due to a COVID-19 diagnosis.
- Caring for a family member who needs medical diagnosis, care, or treatment for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Caring for a family member who is obtaining an immunization related to COVID-19 or is recovering from an injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization.
- Complying with a quarantine order from a public official, health authority, employer, or healthcare provider.
- An inability to telework due to COVID-19 because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and the symptoms inhibit their ability to telework.
What is New?
- The mandate has been extended from October 1, 2021, to April 1, 2022.
- Starting October 1, 2021, Eligible employees will now be covered to care for a family member who “is obtaining immunization related to COVID-19 or is recovering from an injury, disability, illness or condition related to such immunization.” This use is not retroactive to events prior to October 1.
- The Mass.gov FAQ state that “the law does not address how many times an employee can take leave, there is a cap that limits total (leave) hours” to 40. This cap does not restart but is a cap for the program since inception.
Employers must retain the same employment benefits for those eligible for COVID-19 paid leave while they are on leave. These benefits include group life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, sick leave, annual or vacation leave, educational benefits, and pensions.
- Employers may not require employees to use other types of available paid leave before they use COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave.
- Employers may not require employees to find someone else to cover the time they will miss while using COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave.
- Employers may not interfere with an employee’s ability to use COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave or retaliate against an employee for taking COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave.
- Employers are required to post the MA COVID-19 Emergency Leave Notice in a prominent location and provide each employee with a copy. Download Notice here.
- Employers should develop a written leave request form for employees to complete and maintain a copy in the employee’s personnel file.
- Employers must also keep written medical documentation from an employee if the employer is going to request reimbursement from the state fund.
Financial Support for Employers
The original law established a fund of $75 million to support COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave. Eligible employers may apply for reimbursement for full wage and benefit expenses up to the $850 cap. Reimbursements will be made until the balance of the fund is depleted.