Lawmakers recently expanded both the duration and the applicability of the COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave scheme. The laws require employers to provide paid leave for employees affected by COVID-19, including those providing care for others impacted by quarantines and vaccinations. Employers who provide leave under the scheme can then apply to the Massachusetts government for reimbursement.
Recent changes extend the requirements and reimbursement opportunities until April 1, 2022 or until program funds are exhausted. Changes in the law also expand the situations in which employees are allowed to take leave under the program.
Employers who are uncertain of how to handle their obligations under the leave requirements may find it helpful to seek guidance from a knowledgeable HR consultant. The law applies to all employers, regardless of size, and all employees whose “primary place of employment” is in Massachusetts.
Situations Where Massachusetts Employers Must Provide Emergency Paid Sick Leave
The emergency COVID-19 paid leave scheme allows employees to take paid sick leave if they face certain situations or if they need to care for a “family member” facing one of the same situations. Family members includes spouses, domestic partners, children, parents (including parents of spouses and partners), grandchildren, grandparents, and former guardians.
- Leave must be provided when the employee or family member needs to:
- Isolate due to a COVID-19 diagnosis
- Seek care, diagnosis, or treatment for COVID-19 symptoms
- Receive a COVID-19 vaccination
- Recover from a COVID-19 vaccination
- Quarantine as ordered by a public health official, employers, or doctor
Additionally, paid leave must be provided if an employee is unable to telework because of COVID-19 symptoms.
The amount of leave an employer must offer varies according to certain circumstances but is generally equivalent to the number of hours the employee works in average week, up to 40 hours. The maximum amount of paid leave an employee may receive is capped at $850, which includes the cost of benefits.
Prohibited Actions for Employers
Under the emergency sick leave provisions, employers are not generally allowed to require their employees to use up other available paid leave before taking advantage of the COVID-19 paid sick leave hours. Additionally, employers are not allowed to require their employees to try to find other workers to cover the time they miss while using emergency paid sick leave provided for COVID-19.
Information collected by employers in conjunction with leave requests must be treated as confidential. Therefore, employers may not disclose this information to third parties without the employee’s consent.
Finally, employers are prohibited from taking action that could be perceived as retaliation against employees who exercise their right to seek leave. They also may not act in a way that interferes with an employee’s ability to take COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave.
Seeking Reimbursement for COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave
Employers who hope to be reimbursed by Massachusetts for the expense of providing paid emergency COVID-19 sick leave under the scheme must comply with several requirements. First, they must require employees to put their leave requests in writing on a form that contains specified information. Massachusetts has created a sample leave request form that employers may use for this purpose.
In addition to the information legally required to be included in the employee’s written request for paid leave, employers are also required to provide additional information in their request for reimbursement, such as social security and employer identification numbers, applicable benefits, wages paid during leave that are not eligible for federal tax credits, and a calculation of the average hours worked by the employee.
Employers will need to submit claims through their MassTaxConnect account after creating an Emergency Paid Sick Leave account. Detailed instructions are provided on the Massachusetts government website with a video explaining reimbursement procedures.
Assistance with COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave Requirements
Employers who fail to comply with the expanded COVID-19 paid sick leave requirements risk losing funding and could face legal penalties. As with all employment laws, it is important for all employers to understand their obligations and set up a system to ensure compliance.
The experienced team at Taylor HR Group is ready to help, whether you want to establish a plan to comply with one particular legal requirement or want to outsource a substantial portion of your HR obligations. To learn how we could assist, contact us for a confidential consultation.