Why wasn’t I paid for my sick days?

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Q: Earlier this spring I was out with the flu.  I brought in a doctor’s note saying that my illness was legitimate.  I was told that my company offered paid sick time.  Now, they are saying that I was not eligible for pay because I was so new in my position. They only paid me for several hours of sick time.  At my orientation, they said I would receive five days of sick time (paid).  I thought there was a law about sick time in Massachusetts?

A:  On November 4, 2014, Massachusetts voters passed a new sick time law requiring many employers to provide sick time for their employees.  Since 2015, employers with 11 or more employees must allow employees to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time.  For employers working for companies with fewer than 11 employees, employees can earn up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time.  This law applies to full-time, part-time and even temporary employees.

Employers have some flexibility in setting their own internal policy with how employees accrue sick time.  Many employers allow employees to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Employers can also offer employees a lump sum allocation of 40 hours of sick time at the beginning of the benefit year.     Remember only companies with 11 or more employees are required to offer paid sick time.  Companies under that threshold don’t have to offer paid sick time to anyone, although some do.  The good news is that the law requires that employees begin accruing sick time, starting on their first day of work.  Vacation days don’t count as actual time worked.

Let’s talk about your status as a new employee.  An employer can have a 90-day waiting period before the employee is eligible for the paid sick time.  In your situation, if you took sick time during your first 90 days, your employer was not required to pay you at all.  It sounds like your employer might have waived the 90-day waiting period and paid you for one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

For more information about the Mass Earned Sick Time Law, please visit http://www.mass.gov/ago/doing-business-in-massachusetts/workplace-rights/leave-time/earned-sick-time.html.

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.