Information about the Commonwealth’s new temporary sick leave program for certain reasons related to COVID-19.
COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program
Under the terms of Chapter 16 of the Acts of 2021 (An Act Providing for Massachusetts COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave), which was enacted by the Legislature and signed by Governor Baker, effective May 28, 2021, employers are required to make paid leave time available to employees for COVID-related illnesses, quarantine, and vaccinations, and then may apply for reimbursement from the state.
Guidance for Employers
Effective Friday, May 28, 2021, and until September 30, 2021 or the exhaustion of $75 M in program funds as determined by the Commonwealth, whichever is earlier, employers must offer Massachusetts employees leave time as follows. Additional guidance will be issued in the coming weeks, including information on how to apply for reimbursement.
For questions regarding the COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program, employers can email CovidSickLeave@mass.gov.
Before submitting questions, please check this webpage for the most up-to-date information.
Table of Contents
Reasons for Leave
Massachusetts employers are required to provide emergency paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work for the following COVID-19-related reasons:
- an employee’s need to:
- self-isolate and care for themself because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- get a medical diagnosis, care, or treatment for COVID-19 symptoms; or
- get or recover from a COVID-19 immunization;
- an employee’s need to care for a family member1 who:
- must self-isolate due to a COVID-19 diagnosis; or
- needs medical diagnosis, care, or treatment for COVID-19 symptoms;
- a quarantine order or similar determination regarding the employee by a local, state, or federal public official, a health authority having jurisdiction, or a health care provider;
- an employee’s need to care for a family member due to a quarantine order or similar determination regarding the family member by a local, state, or federal public official, a health authority having jurisdiction, the family member’s employer, or a health care provider; or
- an employee’s inability to telework due to COVID-19 symptoms.
- Note that, in general, employers may not require employees to use other types of available paid leave before they use COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave. Similarly, employers may not require employees to search for or find a replacement worker to cover the time the employee will miss while using COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave.
- Employers must provide 40 hours of COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave to their employees who work 40 or more hours per week.
- For employees who regularly work fewer than 40 hours per week, employers must provide leave in an amount that is equal to the average number of hours that such employee works per week.
- For employees whose schedule and weekly hours vary from week to week, employers must provide leave that is equal to the average number of hours that the employee was scheduled to work per week over the previous 6-months.
- If an employee with a variable schedule has not worked for the employer for 6 months, the employer must provide leave that is equal to the number of hours per week that the employee reasonably expected to work when hired.
- The maximum amount an employer is required to pay per employee, and the maximum amount for which the employer may seek reimbursement for any one employee, is $850 (including cost of benefits).
Employee Requests for Leave
Employers who want to receive reimbursements from the Commonwealth for the costs of providing employees with COVID-19 Massachusetts emergency paid sick leave must require their employees to submit requests for COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave in writing. Employers should therefore prescribe a form2 that requires employees to provide the following information for all requests:
- the employee’s name;
- the date(s) for which leave is requested and taken;
- a statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and written support for such reason; and
- a statement that because of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is unable to work or telework.
For leave requests based on a quarantine order or self-quarantine advice, the statement from the employee must also include:
- the name of the governmental entity ordering quarantine or the name of the health care provider advising self-quarantine; and
- if the person subject to quarantine or advised to self-quarantine is not the employee, that person’s name and relation to the employee.
Employers must treat health information regarding an employee or employee’s family member as confidential medical records in accordance with applicable state and federal law, and must not disclose such information to any third parties without the employee’s express permission.
Employers should also collect and retain the following information in anticipation of applying for reimbursement:
- the employee’s social security or tax identification number;
- the employer identification number associated with the position from which the employee took leave;
- the length of the leave (in hours) and wages paid during that leave that are not eligible for federal tax credits, and are not otherwise paid under any other government program or law;
- benefits applicable to the employee taking leave; and
- the number of hours in the employee’s regular schedule, or
- if the employee has no regular schedule, the hours that the employee was scheduled to work per week over the 6- month period immediately preceding the date on which such employee takes the COVID-19 Massachusetts emergency paid sick leave, including hours for which such employee took leave of any type; or
- if the employee did not work over such 6-month period, is equal to the reasonable expectation of the employee at the time of hiring of the average number of hours per week that the employee would normally be scheduled to work.
While administering their COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave programs, employers may not interfere with an employee’s ability to use COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave or retaliate against an employee for exercising rights under the program. Specifically, employers may not:
- interfere with, restrain, or deny an employee’s ability to take COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave, including, but not limited to, by using an employee’s taking of COVID19 emergency paid sick leave as a negative factor in any employment action, such as an evaluation, promotion, disciplinary action, or termination;
- discipline or take any other adverse action against an employee for using COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave; or
- take any adverse action against an employee because the employee opposes practices believed to be in violation of this program, or because the employee supports the exercise of rights of another employee, including, but not limited to:
- filing an action, or instituting or causing to be instituted any proceeding;
- providing or intending to provide any information regarding any inquiry or proceeding; or
- testifying or intending to testify in any inquiry or proceeding
COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program Frequently Asked Questions
Posted Date: June 17, 2021
New questions and answers are flagged with posted date; all others are unchanged from first FAQ document posted on June 7, 2021.
Q1. Where can I find a copy of the state law?
The law is available here: Additional Resources, titled Chapter 16 of the Acts of 2021, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-temporary-emergency-paid-sick-leave-program
Q2. When does the law take effect?
May 28, 2021. Note that earlier versions of the law provided for a ten-day delay between the statute becoming law and the effective date of the sick leave policy; however, the final version of the law took effect upon signing, on May 28. Leave time taken prior to May 28 does not satisfy the state mandate, and is not eligible for reimbursement under this state program.
Q3. Where can employers find the notice that they are required to share with employees?
Notices are available under Additional Resources: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19- temporary-emergency-paid-sick-leave-program.
The notice requirement can be satisfied by using either the poster form or the document form of the notice made available on the MA COVID sick leave website.
Q4. Is there a requirement to issue the Notice to Employees individually or does posting satisfy the notice obligation?
There is not a requirement to issue the notice individually; however, in cases where the employer does not maintain a physical workplace, or an employee teleworks or performs work through a web-based platform, notification shall be sent via electronic communication or a conspicuous posting in the web-based platform.
Interactions with Federal and Non-Federal Programs
Q1. Are employees who were already offered 80 hours of federal leave under FFCRA, the CARES Act, and/or ARPA eligible for another 40 hours state leave?
The state mandate is for 40 hours between May 28 and the termination of the mandate. For an employee who took federal leave prior to May 28, the state leave may be in addition to the federal leave. However, to the extent employees have not exhausted their federal leave, the state and federal leave may run concurrently on or after May 28, so long as the state mandate is met in full.
Q2. Is the federal tax credit program primary or should employers submit to the state for reimbursement first?
The federal tax credit is primary. Employers must attest they are ineligible for federal tax credits for any costs for which they are applying for state reimbursement.
Q3. The statute says that reimbursement is unavailable for “sick leave wages paid by an employer that are eligible for the [federal] tax credit.” Given that the federal program is voluntary, many employers of <500 have opted out as of Jan 1st or April 1st. Will their submissions for reimbursement be rejected because the companies are technically eligible?
When applying for reimbursement, employers will be directed to attest that they are ineligible for the federal tax credit – employers who do so are free to access the state reimbursement. Employers may be ineligible for the federal tax credit either because the employer is categorically disqualified or because the parameters of the leave program the employer offers do not meet federal requirements.
Q4. Are multi-state employers with Massachusetts employees required to notify their Massachusetts employees, even if they are already covered under federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave?
Yes. Notice must go to all employees with a primary place of employment in the Commonwealth (see “Eligibility” below for additional information). The state mandate may in some cases exceed the federal EPSL program (also sometimes known as FFCRA for the federal law by which it was originally enacted) – notably if an employee used up all available leave time prior to May 28.
New on 6/11/21:
Q5. Does the law apply to employers who are already offering leave under the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave law?
Yes. MA COVID leave is similar though not identical to federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave. Notably, family leave is payable at 2/3 regular pay under the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave, whereas family leave is payable at an employee's regular rate of pay under MA COVID leave. For employers who, voluntarily or otherwise, offer federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave, MA COVID leave may run concurrently with the federally compliant leave, so long as the state mandate is met in full, including 40 hours (or a prorated amount for part-time employees) beginning May 28.
Q6. How does it work if an employee takes time off to care for a family member, where this leave time is addressed in both federal and state law?
An employee who takes leave to care for a family member must be paid the full rate of compensation for the first 40 hours (prorated for part-time employees), up to $850. In determining reimbursement, an employer who offers federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave would first calculate the amount available for a credit under federal law, which is generally two thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day, or $2,000 total. The employer would then subtract the federal tax credit amount from the reimbursement otherwise available from the state.
Q7. Are employees who were already offered 40 or more hours of temporary non-federal COVID-specific paid leave (over and above an employer’s normal year-round sick leave policies) that meets or exceeds the MA COVID leave requirements eligible for another 40 hours state leave?
The state mandate is for 40 hours of COVID-specific leave between May 28 and the termination of the mandate. As with federal COVID leave, for an employee who took temporary non-federal COVID-specific leave that meets or exceeds the MA COVID leave requirements prior to May 28, the state-mandated leave may be in addition to the temporary non-federal COVID-specific leave. However, to the extent employees have not exhausted their temporary COVID-specific leave, the two leave programs may run concurrently on or after May 28, so long as the state mandate is met in full.
Documentation and Reimbursement
Q1. How can employers access reimbursement?
Further information will follow on applying for reimbursement. In the meantime, employers should retain documentation as advised in Employee Requests for Leave, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-temporary-emergency-paid-sick-leave-program#employee-requests-for-leave-
Q2. Is there a standard form available from the state to collect the needed information from employees?
Not yet; however a voluntary form will be available soon.
Q3. Are absences prior to May 28th paid for by the employer eligible for reimbursement from this fund?
Q4. Is an employer permitted to request medical documentation for the categories of leave related to an employee or family member’s diagnosis or treatment for COVID-19? And if so, are there limitations? Is written support required in order to access reimbursement?
Yes; written medical documentation must be requested of an employee in order for an employer to claim state reimbursement. There are no express limitations on the medical documentation an employer may collect; however, employers must treat health information regarding an employee or employee’s family member as confidential medical records in accordance with applicable state and federal law, and must not disclose such information to any third parties without the employee’s express permission.
Q5. Are employers required to get documentation of an immunization if this is the reason for their leave?
Yes, if they seek reimbursement from the state.
New on 6/11/21:
Q6. How will employers be notified when state funds have been depleted?
If the state funds are expected to become depleted prior to September 31, 2021, employers will be notified with 15 days advance notice. Employers may continue to access reimbursement for leave taken up until the termination date of the program, and additional state funding will be added to the program as necessary to ensure that all eligible costs are reimbursed.
Q1. Does the law apply to new or temporary employees?
Yes. However, note that the hours that the employer must offer are prorated for those with part-time schedules. For more information, see Leave Amounts, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19- temporary-emergency-paid-sick-leave-program#leave-amounts
Q2. Is there a waiting period for new hires?
Q3. Does the law apply to Massachusetts residents who work in another state?
Eligible employees are defined as, among other aspects, those whose primary place of employment is in the Commonwealth (see Q4 below for this definition). Unless a Massachusetts resident who works in another state has a primary place of employment in the Commonwealth, the law does not apply.
Q4. Where is an employee’s primary place of employment?
An employee's "primary place of employment" means the worksite or physical location where the employee spent the greatest percentage of work hours between the dates of January 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021; temporary telecommuting arrangements entered into during this period should not factor into this determination. For a new employee who commences work on or after May 1, 2021, "primary place of employment" means the worksite or physical location where the employee is expected to spend the greatest percentage of work hours between the first day of work and September 30, 2021, based on the work arrangement agreed upon between the employer and the employee.
Q5. Does this law apply to businesses based in neighboring states with employees who live in MA and work from home?
As above, the law applies if an employee’s primary place of employment is in the Commonwealth.
Q6. How does the law apply to employees of Massachusetts or multistate employers with a mix of Massachusetts and out of state employees?
Only employees whose “primary place of employment is in the Commonwealth” will be eligible.
Q7. Does the law apply to employers of all sizes?
Q8. How many times can an employee take leave?
The law does not address how many times an employee can take leave. The cap is only with respect to total hours.
New on 6/17/21:
Q9. Does the law apply with respect to employers that do not require immunizations?
Yes. The law applies to all employers of Massachusetts employees.
Q1. What leave is mandated?
Required leave amounts are detailed here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-temporary-emergency-paid-sick-leave-program#leave-amounts
Q2. For full-time employees, is the leave 40 hours total, or 40 hours per week?
40 hours total.
Q3. Does an employee need a positive COVID test to qualify for COVID sick leave?
Not necessarily; however, an employee must have a positive diagnosis of COVID, such as a positive COVID test or a diagnosis by a health care professional, in order to qualify for COVID leave.
Q4. If an employer currently provides sick time to full-time and part-time employees, must that employer provide additional leave time?
Additional leave time may be required. Generally, MA COVID leave is required to supplement otherwise available sick time. Note that for employers who, voluntarily or otherwise, offer federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave, MA COVID leave may run concurrently with the federally compliant leave, so long as the state mandate is met in full, including 40 hours (or a prorated amount for part-time employees) beginning May 28.
Q5. An employer provides employees with a separate paid time policy to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine for him or herself. This paid time is not deducted from the employee’s sick or vacation time. Can this leave time run concurrently with MA COVID EPSL?
Yes, as long as the paid time-off is compensated at the employee's regular rate of pay, and with the same employment benefits to which the employee is entitled to as a term of the employee’s employment.
Q6. For an employee who makes more than $850 per week, does this mean the employer is required to grant them 40 hours off but only pay them for a portion of the time? If this is the case, is it ok to allow employees to use PTO to make up the difference?
Yes, the law requires 40 hours (for full-time employees, prorated for part time), but only requires payment of $850, including benefits. Yes, employees may use other forms of paid time off, such as sick leave, in order to earn their normal rate of pay. In that case, once the $850 dollar cap is hit, the leave times could run concurrently.
Q7. With respect to the maximum amount an employer is required to pay per employee, and the maximum amount for which the employer may seek reimbursement for any one employee, is $850 a weekly cap or a total cap?
$850 is a total cap.
New on 6/11/21:
Q8. Are MA COVID leave benefits taxable?
Yes. Leave benefits are treated like wages paid while an employee takes sick time.
Q9. Is MA COVID leave retroactive?
No, leave time taken prior to May 28, 2021 is not covered by the state mandate.
New on 6/17/21:
Q10: If an employee is symptomatic, is tested for COVID-19 and the result if negative but the employee needs to remain home, are they entitled to the EPSL?
See Q3. COVID sick leave must be related to COVID. The state will defer to an employer’s good faith determination that the reason for the leave is COVID-related. For example, an employee may have a probable diagnosis of COVID-19 from a medical professional, alongside a false negative test for COVID-19. Or, the employee may have an ambiguous diagnosis, and be advised to remain home based on the possibility that the illness is COVID-19. An employee may take time for a COVID test based on symptoms that appear to be COVID, but turn out to be something else. Any of these scenarios could reasonably be considered COVID-related.
Q11. Are benefits deducted from the $850 cap?
Benefits are part of the $850, both in the sense that $850 (including the value of benefits) is the maximum amount an employer may seek in reimbursement, and in that $850 is the maximum the employer is obligated to compensate an employee under this state law.
For example, a full time employee earning $20 per hour whose benefits cost an employer $8.34 per hour has a total cost of compensation of $28.34 per hour.
- If that employee were to take 30 hours of leave for COVID-related reasons, the employee would be entitled to $600 in wages ($20 x 30 hours), and the employer could claim $850 in reimbursement ($600 in wages plus $8.34 x 30 hours in benefit costs).
- If that employee were to take 10 more hours of leave (40 hours total) for COVID-related reasons, the employee would be entitled to no further wages (except potentially by taking sick leave under an employer’s policy, if applicable). The employer would be required to grant the employee the full 40 hours leave, with regular benefits, but would be entitled to no further reimbursement from the state.
Notices to Employees
通知员工们 关于麻省 COVID-19 紧急带薪病假 (Chinese)
Konje Peye Maladi Ijans COVID-19 Massachusetts— avi pou anplwaye yo (Haitian Creole)
매사추세츠주 코로나 바이러스 긴급 유급 병가—직원 지침 (Korean)
麻省 COVID-19 紧急带薪病假 - 通知给员工们 (Chinese)
Konje Peye Maladi Ijans COVID-19 Massachusetts— avi pou anplwaye yo (Haitian Creole)
매사추세츠주 코로나 바이러스 긴급 유급 병가—직원 지침 (Korean)
1 “Family member” has the same definition as in the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (M.G.L. c. 175M), namely, an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, grandchild, grandparent, or sibling, a parent of a spouse or domestic partner of the employee, or a person who stood in loco parentis to the employee when such employee was a minor child
2 A standard form is in development and will be posted for use at employers’ option at mass.gov.
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