Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Under the Earned Sick Time Law

Are you a new employer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? Do you plan on offering your employees paid sick leave? If the answer is no, it’s time to reassess. Most employers must provide Massachusetts paid sick leave under state law. 

Read on to learn key facts about the state law, including:

  • How many sick days to provide
  • Which employers the law applies to
  • When employees can use sick leave
  • How to track paid sick leave in Massachusetts 
  • …And more!

Massachusetts paid sick leave 

The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law requires most employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. This lets employees receive their typical wages and benefits while away for qualifying reasons. 

MA sick time requirements began on July 1, 2015. If you’re unfamiliar with the state law, read on for the scoop.

How many sick days do employers have to provide?

All employers must provide employees with one hour of paid or unpaid sick time per 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year. Whether the leave is paid or unpaid depends on how many employees you have (explained later). 

Employees accrue paid sick leave on all hours worked, including overtime. Employees do not accrue sick leave on vacation hours.

Although MA uses an accrual system, you have options for how to give employees sick days. You can either:

  • Let employees accrue time as they work
  • Provide employees with a lump sum each month
  • Provide employees with a lump sum each year

Use the accrual rate (one hour per 30 hours worked) and cap (40 hours per year) to determine the employee’s lump sum for the month or year. 

Have your own paid sick leave or paid time off policy? You can stick to your own policy instead of the state’s—as long as yours offers at least the same benefits and protections.

Which employers have to follow Massachusetts sick time law?

All private employers must follow the state’s Earned Sick Time Law. But again, the number of employees you have determines whether that leave must be paid or unpaid. 

Employers with 11 or more employees must provide paid sick leave to employees. Employers with fewer than 11 employees can provide unpaid sick leave to employees.

Determine your total employee count once per year. Include the following employees in your count (regardless of whether they live in Massachusetts):

  • Full-time employees
  • Part-time employees
  • Seasonal employees
  • Per diem employees
  • Temporary employees 
Employer Size Accrual RatePaid or Unpaid?
11 or more employees1 hour / 30 workedPaid
Fewer than 11 employees1 hour / 30 workedCan be unpaid

The state law does not apply to U.S. government, Massachusetts cities and towns, and certain other public employers (e.g., school committees). 

Can employees carry over hours?

In certain cases, you must let employees carry over unused, earned sick time to the next year. Carryover requirements depend on how you provide sick leave.

If you give employees accrued sick leave or provide a lump sum each month, you must let them carry over at least 40 hours of unused earned sick time to the next year. You can still cap the employee’s sick leave usage at 40 hours per year, even if they have more time from carrying it over.

If you provide a lump sum of sick leave each year, you do not need to let employees carry over unused sick leave. 

Alternatively, you can pay out an employee’s unused earned sick time at the end of the year. But if you do, you must offer unpaid sick time until the employee accrues new paid time. You must provide 16 hours of unpaid sick time if you pay out 16 hours or more. If you pay out less than 16 hours, provide an equivalent amount of unpaid sick time. As the employee accrues new paid time, the new paid time can replace the unpaid time. 

How much is earned sick pay?

Sick pay is the same amount as the employee’s regular wages. But in some cases, determining an employee’s “regular” wages can be difficult. 

For example, your employee might:

  • Receive a salary
  • Get paid on a piece work or fee-for-service basis
  • Work on commission
  • Receive tip income
  • Receive two different hourly rates (or more!)


To find a salaried employee’s sick pay rate, divide their salary in the previous pay period by the total hours worked. This is the employee’s regular hourly rate. 

Piece work or fee-for-service basis

If you pay an employee on a piece work or fee-for-service basis, calculate their hourly rate by including the wages or fees you would typically give them. 


Pay commission-based employees their base wage or minimum wage, whichever is larger.


Pay tipped employees at least the Massachusetts minimum wage while they are on sick leave.

Multiple hourly rates

If you pay an employee two or more hourly rates, you can either:

  1. Pay the employee the wage associated with the job they would have worked if they weren’t sick
  2. Calculate the blended rate (i.e., taking the weighted average of their regular rates)

When can employees use sick leave in Massachusetts? 

Accrual starts immediately. Massachusetts employees can start using their earned sick time on the 90th calendar day after starting at your business.

Employees can use Mass sick time for the following reasons:

  • Mental or physical illness, injury, or medical condition
  • To care for a child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse suffering from mental or physical illness, injury, or medical condition
  • Attend a routine medical appointment for self or child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse
  • Deal with the psychological, physical, or legal effects of domestic violence
  • Travel to and from an appointment, pharmacy, or similar location

Your employees should notify you before using sick time (unless it’s an emergency). You can only ask for proof (e.g., a doctor’s note) in limited circumstances. Additionally, you can’t ask for information about the illness or domestic violence. 

Is there anything else I should know?

You must notify your employees about their rights under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law:

  1. Post the Notice of Employee Rights in your workplace AND
  2. Give employees a copy of the notice or include your sick time policy in your employee handbook

How to track sick time: Massachusetts 

Manually tracking an employee’s accrued sick time and used sick time can get messy. Instead, consider using payroll software for a hands-off process. 

Through software, you can:

  • Set up accrual rules (e.g., one hour per 30 worked) or give employees a lump sum
  • Track paid sick leave balances
  • Give employees an easy way to view their paid sick leave balances
  • Pay employees for paid sick leave
Patriot’s payroll software: Pay employees with ease!
  • Set up time-off accrual rules
  • Pay employees in 3 simple steps
  • Enjoy free USA-based support
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Massachusetts sick leave law summary

Skimmed to the end? We get it. Here are some key things to know about sick time Massachusetts:

  • All employers must provide paid or unpaid sick leave in Massachusetts
  • Employers with 11 or more employees must provide paid sick leave; employees with fewer than 11 employees must provide unpaid sick leave
  • The accrual rate is one hour of paid sick leave per 30 hours worked
  • Employees can use sick time for qualifying reasons, like a routine medical appointment or caring for a sick child
  • Use online payroll to accrue and track employee time off 

You can learn more about the MA sick law on the state’s website

You do the most for your business. Shouldn’t you have payroll software that does the most for you? Run payroll in three easy steps with Patriot Software, set up time-off accruals, and so much more. Get your free trial now!  

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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