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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Employee Rights During COVID-19

March 1, 2020, the day that the Coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, seems so far away as we head into the month of May.  Like a bad dream or childhood cartoon, the days have begun to morph into a singular, collective day for many as the uncertainty, fear and rapid changes continue. As the state with the third highest number of cases in the United States, Massachusetts has closed public and private schools for the rest of the year, postponing jury trials until at least July 1st, 2020, issued stay at home orders, social distancing guidelines, and a plethora of other measure sin an effort to keep citizens safe.

For many, the stay at home orders are a question in and of themselves. With some industries being deemed essential and childcare centers closed, there has been repeated questions as to what that means for employees. As a state that promotes the right to fair wages and a safe workplace, Massachusetts has put several measures in place.

Some of those measures are the ones available to Massachusetts employees even when we are not subject to a global health emergency. Under M.G.L c. 149 §148C, employees in Massachusetts have the right to use up to forty hours of earned sick time per year for personal or family use. For those with more than eleven employees, the sick time must be paid. The accrual of the forty hours is based on one hour earned per thirty hours worked by an employee. There is also a state level paid Family and Medical Leave that, under M.G.L c. 175M/c.121 offers paid leave for eligible workers who are struck by serious injury/illness or who has an ill or ailing relative that they are caring for. It also applies to welcoming children and certain military considerations.

With M.G.L c. 149 §52D, Massachusetts offers something called ‘Small Necessities Leave’ which is an unpaid leave equal to up to twenty-four hours per year for appointments relating to the employee’s parents, spouse, or children. Eligibility for this leave is based on companies having fifty or more employees and the employee having worked a minimum of 1,250 hours with the company in a year.

Tailored specifically to COVID19, Massachusetts has signed into effect a new act on March 27, 2020 known as the CARES Act. Standing for the ‘Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities Act,’ CARES was designed to provide economic and fiscal relief to individuals and small businesses that have been affected. A multipronged approach, CARES is meant to aid individuals by providing supplemental weekly unemployment benefits for those qualified by $600. It also waives the waiting period to collect, extends benefits by an additional thirteen weeks and extends benefits to those who may not have sufficient earnings for the past year that is usually needed to qualify. In taking an additional step, these benefits are now being extended to those who work part time or who are gig workers. Opening doors for those who have had their employment reduced to one-third their usual hours or who have been temporarily laid off because of the pandemic, CARES is the hail Mary pass that many were hoping for. In relation to small businesses, CARES has taken on a rescue plan by issuing loan forgiveness grants to maintain current workforces and to help pay for expenses. With up to $10 Billion dollars available for the Small Business Association, there are emergency grants available for operating cost relief that are $10,000 or less. The Rescue plan also includes up to $17 Billion dollars to cover six months of payments for small businesses who have current Small Business Association loans.

For those who are independent contractors or self-employed, there is also the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program available under the CARES Act which can be applied for. Providing thirty-nine weeks of benefits to those who would not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits, PUA is an alternate avenue for relief.

Federally, there has been the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that was signed into effect on April 1, 2020. Similar to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the FFCRA offers twelve weeks of public health emergency leave for employees to care for their children due to school closures because of COVID19. Where the first ten days of leave do not have to be paid, the remaining time does, unlike the FMLA which is unpaid. This new act also provides for up to 80 hours of emergency sick time for full-time employees for COVID-19 related instances. For part time employees, eligibility is based on the average number of hours worked in a two-week period. This emergency leave and paid sick time is applicable to employers with fewer than five hundred employees and can exclude those with health care providers or first responders in their employ.

There is an option to choose the FFCRA over the Massachusetts accrued sick time in order to save it for future use once the pandemic has passed.

When it comes questioning eligibility or employment during this crisis there are several things to consider. Though you may still be employed at a one-third capacity to your regular hours, you are considered partially unemployed and thus able to file for unemployment. Your employer cannot force you to use your paid time off nor your sick time prior to filing. Where and when the stay at home orders are in place, an employer does reserve the right to ask you to stay home should you be potentially exposed to or contracted COVID-19. Employers can also ask you to go home from work. Should you be sent home you must be paid your regular wages for the time you spent at work and if you are advised to stay home, it is encouraged that you use your sick time. If your employer is temporarily closed and you are not working as an hourly employee, you do not have to be paid if you are not working. In that instance, you would be advised to file for temporary unemployment for a COVID-19 related closure.

If you have any questions regarding employment or employee rights, please contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy by phone at (508) 296-4417 or by email at

It is with our best that we wish you all brighter skies ahead and that you remain well in these trying times.


By Courtney Garrity, paralegal

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