The mandated sick leave provision included in urgent unemployment insurance legislation signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on April 1 is back with lawmakers.

The governor approved unemployment insurance and tax provisions (Chapter 9 of the Acts of 2021), but returned the temporary COVID-related sick leave sections in the Legislature’s bill with recommendations to improve and simplify implementation of the program. In addition, the governor’s proposal (H. 3703) would exempt cities and towns from the sick leave requirement.

Legislative leaders have said that they intend to stick with their original plan to include local government employers in the mandate, but a return bill was not re-enacted as April ended.

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

The Legislature quickly enacted the bill over a 10-day period in March, starting from legislation filed by the governor to shore up the state’s underfunded unemployment insurance program. An agreement on the basics of the Legislature’s bill, including the sick leave provision, was announced on March 8 by House and Senate leadership. The House approved a version on March 11, and the Senate approved a similar bill on March 18. There were no public hearings on the legislation, and the bills were approved unanimously.

The Legislature’s mandated 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, a quarantine order due to 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.

The state sick leave provisions would take effect 10 days after the effective date of the law and would end on Sept. 30, 2021, unless extended. 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.

An employee who works 40 hours or more per week would be eligible for 40 hours of emergency paid sick time. For employees who work fewer than 40 hours per week, leave eligibility 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, which was signed by President Joe Biden on March 11.

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