On May 28, Gov. Charlie Baker signed mandatory COVID-19-related paid sick leave provisions that were unanimously re-enacted by the House and Senate earlier in the month after being previously rejected by the governor.

The sick leave provisions had been included in unemployment insurance reform and tax legislation that the Legislature passed in March. Baker signed Chapter 9 of the Acts of 2021 on April 1, but he returned its 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 MMA opposed including local government in the sick leave mandate, noting that local government employees already receive strong sick leave benefits through collective bargaining agreements and local policies, and decisions about whether to use municipal revenues to offer special supplemental COVID-19 benefits should be made at the local level.

The paid sick leave sections of the new law apply to all Massachusetts employers, including cities and towns. The new rules took effect immediately and will end on Sept. 30 of this year unless extended. The administration issued preliminary guidance for employers when the governor signed the bill.

The sick leave provisions require 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 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 is eligible for 40 hours of emergency paid sick time. Leave eligibility for employees who work less than 40 hours per week is tied to an average of the number of hours worked.

Generally, 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, cities and towns are eligible to take a federal tax credit against employment taxes, including Medicare, to cover part of the cost of mandated sick leave.

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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