Vaccines are critical when it comes to ending the pandemic for good. But, for many Americans receiving an immunization isn’t so easy. Fortunately, Massachusetts has enacted new legislation providing employees with special sick pay for COVID-19 shots.
Recent Spike in New COVID-19 Cases is Concerning to Experts
Massachusetts lifted its mask order on May 29, 2021.
With many Commonwealth residents shedding their favorite face coverings and heading back to busy worksites, joining large in-person gatherings, and dining at crowded restaurants, it is easy to believe normalcy has finally returned.
While new COVID-19 cases have significantly decreased since this time last year, things are not exactly back to how they were pre-pandemic.
Although new cases per day have dramatically declined since July 2020, experts fear cases may continue to spike, as seen in recent weeks.
COVID-19 Vaccines and the Delta Variant
Experts explain COVID-19 cases are on the rise again.
The new Delta variant, a strain even more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus, and fizzling vaccine administrations impede the potential of achieving herd immunity.
Herd immunity, also known as community immunity, as explained by the CDC, is where a large enough proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease so that its spread from person to person is unlikely. U.S. leaders hope to achieve this point of safety via the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
63% of Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated. However, other states have not been as receptive to the vaccine. For instance, in Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, less than 35% of residents are fully vaccinated.
The CDC and other health officials stress the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. Doing so helps protect the recipient from contracting the virus and prevents the spread of the disease. Thus, positively contributing to the country’s objective of reaching herd immunity.
Although vaccines are crucial in combating the pandemic, for many Americans receiving an immunization isn’t so easy. Fortunately, Massachusetts has enacted new legislation to alleviate one of the main challenges unvaccinated workers face.
MA’s COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program Offers Employees Special Sick Pay for COVID-19 Shots
While many Americans wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, doing so is not always so simple.
Various stores, healthcare providers, and non-profit organizations offer the vaccine at no cost, but for some, planning to be vaccinated can mean time off from work. Thus, what begins as a free vaccine can become quite costly.
In Massachusetts, all employees, regardless of the number of hours they work per week, are eligible to accrue sick time. But, given the unprecedented consequences of the pandemic, some workers may have already exhausted all of their earned sick time. Others may forego COVID-19 vaccinations, saving their acquired sick time for when they may become ill and unable to work. This can be problematic as unvaccinated individuals are at severe risk of contracting COVID-19, an outcome made more probable due to the Delta variant.
Fortunately, via Massachusetts’ new COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program, employers must provide employees special paid leave time for various COVID-19-related reasons. This program includes time off to receive and recover from a COVID-19 vaccination.
The program will run until September 30, 2021, or until $75 million in program funds have been exhausted. Whichever is earlier.
Reasons Employees May Take COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave
What reasons qualify for COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave?
Employers must “make paid leave time available to employees for COVID-related illnesses, quarantine, and vaccinations.”
This includes time out of work caring for a family member who has contracted COVID-19. The plan also covers recovery following COVID-19 immunization. Additionally, employees unable to telework due to COVID-19 symptoms are eligible for COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave.
Employers need to provide employees working 40 or more hours a week with 40 hours of COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave. For employees working less than 40 hours a week, employers must grant leave equivalent to the employee’s average number of hours worked per week.
The maximum amount an employer must pay per employee, and the maximum amount for which the employer may seek reimbursement for any one employee, is $850.
What Employers Need to Know
The COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program should contribute to keeping COVID-19 cases at bay. But, for employers, compliance may seem a difficult task.
Here’s what business owners and managers need to know:
- Request for COVID-19 emergency leave must be in writing – 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. Sample forms are available on mass.gov.
- Employers must collect employee information for reimbursement – To receive reimbursement, employers should collect and retain specific information from the employee seeking COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave including the employee’s social security number, the number of hours they typically work, etc.
- No retaliation – It is unlawful for employers to interfere with an employee’s ability to use COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave or retaliate against an employee for exercising their right to acquire COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave.
- Regular paid leave need not be used before COVID-19 emergency leave – Employers cannot force employees to use other paid leave before COVID-19 temporary emergency paid sick leave.
Mass.gov addresses these requirements and more in detail and provides a list of FAQs and answers.
Have You Contracted COVID-19 While at Work? We Can Help.
Have you contracted COVID-19 on the job? Has your employer refused to provide COVID-19 temporary emergency paid sick leave or retaliated against you? We can help. Contact us today.