Labor advocates and frontline workers cheered the final passage last week of legislation that would allow all Massachusetts workers to access five days of emergency paid sick time for COVID-related sickness, quarantine, caregiving, and vaccination.
The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations, and labor unions, which has advocated for emergency paid sick time throughout the pandemic, praised the emergency paid sick time legislation for its worker-friendly provisions.
“This much-needed legislation will be an enormous help to the essential workers who have been carrying us all through the pandemic, and we thank Senate President Spilka, Speaker Mariano, Chairman Rodrigues, and Chairman Michlewitz for ensuring that all workers will be protected,” said Cindy Rowe, Executive Director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. “We’re especially happy to see that the bill includes job protection, so that workers can’t be penalized or fired for using emergency paid sick time, that it covers all workers in Massachusetts, and that it covers the full range of needs workers have, including paid sick time for workers receiving a vaccine and paid sick time for workers who need to care for a family member with COVID-19 symptoms.”
The coalition called on Governor Baker to sign the bill immediately.
“Over the past year, thousands of Massachusetts workers have lost pay, or even lost their jobs, because they needed to stay home from work due to COVID symptoms, or to recover after receiving a vaccine. Countless other workers have gone to work even when they might be sick because they can’t afford not to get paid,” said Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “Workers need Emergency Paid Sick Time today, and we urge Governor Baker to sign this critical legislation immediately.”
The state’s Earned Sick Time law, passed by the voters in 2014, provides 40 hours of paid sick time yearly, but for thousands of workers this isn’t enough to meet the scale and impact of this public health crisis. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided 10 days of additional paid sick time for many workers, and it made a real difference: states that gained access to paid sick time under the FFCRA experienced about 400 fewer cases of COVID-19 per day, according to research from Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute. But the FFCRA had big coverage gaps that left millions of front-line workers without paid sick time, including workers at companies with more than 500 employees, and many employees of health care and residential facilities. The Center for American Progress estimates that at least 1.8 million workers in Massachusetts were not covered by the FFCRA’s paid sick time protections.
In December, the FFCRA’s paid sick time protections expired, leaving all Massachusetts workers without access to emergency paid sick time benefits if they contract or are exposed to COVID-19. Massachusetts’s new paid family and medical leave program, which took effect January 1, allows workers with serious medical problems as a result of COVID-19 to receive partial wage replacement if they take time off from work to recover. However, the new program has a one-week waiting period to receive wage replacement benefits, which means it will not help lower-income workers who cannot afford to miss an entire week of pay to isolate or quarantine. The new state law will fill this gap and ensure that workers do not feel pressure to go to work when they may be infectious.
The legislation requires all Massachusetts employers to provide 40 hours of emergency paid sick time to a full-time worker, and an equivalent amount for part-time workers. The sick time can be used for COVID-related sickness, quarantine, caregiving, and vaccination.
The costs to employers are covered in one of two ways:
•Businesses with fewer than 500 employees, as well as government entities, will be eligible to receive a tax credit from the federal government to cover the cost, as part of American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Biden this month.
•The state legislation provides state reimbursement to businesses with over 500 employees, and creates a $75 million state fund for reimbursement.
Between the state and federal governments, all businesses will be eligible for either state reimbursement or the federal tax credit.