What benefits are required for summer employees?

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Q:  I run a company in metrowest.  We have 27 employees, and then about 5 employees over the summer to cover vacations.  My question is regarding summer employees.  Are they subject to the same laws as year-round employees?  Even PFML?  Please advise.

A: There are many laws, in Massachusetts, which cover both seasonal and full-time year-around employees. State laws regarding meal breaks, overtime wages and minimum wage all apply to both year-round employees as well as seasonal or summer employees. Though it may surprise some, there is no requirement to provide vacation time to employees.  Most employers provide vacation time, as it is a competitive benefit.  An employer can choose to offer vacation time to summer employees.

In Massachusetts, we have a state sick leave law, Massachusetts Earned Sick Time (Massachusetts EST).  I consulted with Employment Law Attorney, Jonathan Sigel, Chair of the Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Group at Mirick O’Connell in Westborough, Massachusetts.  Sigel explains, “Employees must be permitted to accrue sick time (which must be paid sick time if the company has had an average of at least 11 employees during the preceding benefit year), but an employer can choose to prohibit the use of that sick time until after individuals have been employed for at least 90 days.  So, if an employer does that for summer employees, then those employees would likely not have the opportunity to use that sick time before the end of the summer.  However, if any of those employees return to the company sooner than 12 months after that summer, then they would be able to use at least some of their earned sick time (depending on the duration of the break in service).”  In short, most summer employees would likely  be ineligible to use Massachusetts EST benefits during the summer of employment.

Regarding Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) benefits, an employee must meet the minimum threshold for earnings to be eligible for this benefit.  Sigel shares, “They must have been paid wages by a Massachusetts employer of 1. at least 30 times the individual’s weekly benefit amount, 2. in the 12 months (or four quarters) immediately preceding their application for benefits, the employee must have earned a minimum of $5,700.  Additionally, wages at a prior Massachusetts employer are counted for the purposes of determining PFML eligibility.  Whether your summer employees would be eligible for these benefits will depend on their earnings and rate of pay.  In any event, eligibility determinations are made by the Commonwealth’s Department of Paid Family and Medical Leave (or by an employer’s PFML insurer if the employer has a private plan). Every year the Department of Paid and Family Medical Leave reviews eligibility requirements and income thresholds, and these may change in upcoming years.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.