Understanding the Earned Sick Time Law in Massachusetts

Too sick to work?

By Kevin Salzman | Last updated on May 27, 2022

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The new Massachusetts sick leave law concerning earned sick days went into effect on July 1, 2015. The law requires employers to provide up to 40 hours of earned sick time to their employees per year. The hours of sick leave are meant to allow workers time away from their places of employment if they are ill, attending routine medical appointments, preventative medical care or caring for a sick family member or parent of a spouse.

Nearly Every Massachusetts Employer Is Covered by the Law

With few exceptions, every employer in the State of Massachusetts is required to comply with the Earned Sick Time Law. However, the new law does not cover independent contractors. If a person is not an employee of a company—but is instead an “independent contractor”—the company is not required to provide earned sick time to that person.

Sick Time May be Awarded in a Lump Sum or on an Hourly Basis

Employers have two options when it comes to awarding earned sick time to their employees. First, employers may award earned paid leave based on hourly increments. Under this approach, the employee is entitled to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours actually worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. Under the second approach, if the employer chooses to award earned sick time in a lump sum, the amount of earned sick time awarded must not be less than the equivalent of one hour per 30 hours actually worked.

For example: Suppose Ben works 150 hours per month. The employer may either award Ben five hours of earned sick leave at the beginning of the month, or two and one-half hours of earned sick leave every pay period, assuming that Ben is paid every other week by the employer’s payroll system.

Earned Sick Leave for Out-of-State and Overtime Work

Finally, the law requires earned sick leave hours for time worked for a Massachusetts company both within and outside of the state, as well as for any overtime hours.

For example: Suppose Ben works for a construction company that performed 600 hours of work in Massachusetts and another 300 hours of work in Rhode Island. Ben would be eligible for earned sick leave for all 900 hours worked, which equates to 35 hours of earned sick leave.

Not all earned sick leave must be paid sick leave. However, the law has anti-retaliation provisions preventing employers from taking retaliatory action against workers who use their earned sick leave for personal or family illnesses. 

If you have questions about the law, or feel your rights have been violated, consult with a Massachusetts employment attorney. For more information about this area, see our employment law overview for employees and our overview of wage and hour laws.


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