When a paid sick time requirement takes effect Wednesday, state officials say the focus will be on educating employers about the new law, not punishing any for noncompliance.
Voters backed a ballot question in November allowing workers to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave in a given year, earning one hour for every 30 hours they put in. It's being called the strongest state law of its kind in the nation and is expected to cover as many as 1 million workers who are not currently entitled to paid sick days in their jobs.
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Regulations drafted by Attorney General Maura Healey's office do not spell out penalties for employers who skirt the law. Civil enforcement would be possible through the state's existing fair wage laws, making first-time fines of up to $15,000 possible for willful violations.
"Of course, with any law we want people to play by the rules and of course there will be enforcement actions taken if necessary," Healey, a strong supporter of the law, said Tuesday. But she added that her office is more intent on helping businesses understand the law and what steps must be taken to comply, along with making sure employees understand their new rights.
A six-month transition period was also granted to employers who had paid sick leave policies that were less generous than the law requires.
Companies with 10 or fewer employees are exempted from the law.
Among the business owners who have expressed concerns about the new requirement are those who rely heavily on part-time, temporary or seasonal workers. They worry the sick leave policy might not only be expensive but also leave them short-handed at critical times.
The Retailers Association of Massachusetts has raised concerns that teenagers who accrue sick leave in part-time or summer jobs would be tempted to miss work even if they're not sick.
Workers can use earned sick days to care for themselves or for a family member, but employers can demand a doctor's note for absences longer than three days.
The law's supporters say it will spare many of the state's lowest-paid workers an agonizing choice between going to work when they or a child is sick or staying home and losing a paycheck that could mean the difference between buying groceries or paying the rent.
Cedrick Powell, a personal care attendant, said he has faced such a dilemma before.
"Sadly, one of the times I went to work sick, my consumer was exposed to my cold and he got sick as well," said Powell, who provides care to seniors and disabled people in their homes. "This is not OK."
Massachusetts was the third state to approve a paid sick leave requirement.
A law passed in California last year requires most employers to provide up to three paid sick days a year. Connecticut allows workers to accumulate up to 40 hours of paid sick time but exempts businesses with fewer than 50 workers.