The House and Senate on May 20 unanimously re-enacted mandatory COVID-19-related paid sick leave that had been rejected by Gov. Charlie Baker in April, when he signed unemployment insurance legislation but returned its sick leave sections with proposed changes.

The governor approved the unemployment insurance and tax legislation on April 1 (Chapter 9 of the Acts of 2021), but returned the temporary sick leave sections with recommendations to improve and simplify implementation of the program, including an exemption for local government. Legislative leaders said at the time that they intended to stick with their original plan to include local government employers in the mandate.

The re-enacted bill (H. 3772) does not include the municipal exemption. If it is signed by the governor, the new leave mandate will take effect immediately and end on Sept. 30 of this year.

The MMA opposed including local government in the sick leave mandate and urged municipal officials to contact their legislators. The MMA noted that local government employees already receive strong sick leave benefits through collective bargaining agreements and local policies, and whether to use municipal revenues to offer special supplemental COVID-19 benefits should remain a local decision.

The Legislature’s paid sick time provision would require Massachusetts employers to temporarily provide emergency paid sick leave to employees who are absent or unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19, including employee self-care and care of a family member with a COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms, compliance with an order to quarantine because of exposure or symptoms, and inability to telework after a COVID-19 diagnosis. The definitions of “employer” and “employee” include local government.

The new temporary state program is based on requirements in the federal sick leave program included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expired at the end of 2020.

An employee who works 40 hours or more per week would be eligible for 40 hours of emergency paid sick time. Leave eligibility for employees who work less than 40 hours per week would be tied to an average of the number of hours worked.

Generally, cities and towns would be eligible to take a federal tax credit against employment taxes, including Medicare, to cover part of the cost of mandated sick leave through an amendment to the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act that was part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden on March 11.

There are separate bills in both the House and Senate that would make emergency paid sick time during a declared state of emergency or disaster a permanent state statute.

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