Tag Archives: massachusetts

New Massachusetts Sick Time Law Explained

As you know, on November 4, 2014 Massachusetts voters approved ballot question 4 which enacts a new section of MGL c. 149  section 148C and provides for Massachusetts employees to earn and use 40 hours of sick leave in a calendar year.

This new law is effective July 1, 2015.  The law applies to employees of private and public entities with eleven or more employees.  However,  employees employed by cities and towns shall not be considered employees for purposes of this law until this law is accepted by vote of the city or town as a local option or by appropriation as provided for in Article CXV of the Amendments to the Constitution of the Commonwealth.  A local option law for a city must be voted on by the city council in accordance with its charter and in the case of a town by town meeting or town council.

Although most unionized employees already earn sick leave, some benefits of the new law that may not already exist are as follows:

  1. Any and all of the 40 hours of sick leave can be used to care for an employee’s child, spouse, parent or parent of spouse.
  2. The sick leave can be used for both physical and mental illness.
  3. The sick leave can be used for routine medical appointments for the employee or family members.
  4. The sick leave can be used for time needed to address the psychological, physical or legal effects of domestic violence.
  5.  Employees may carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick time to the next calendar year.
  6. An employer may only require medical certification for use of sick time when an earned sick time period covers more than  24 consecutively scheduled work hours and such certification cannot  require that the documentation explain the nature of the illness or the details of the domestic violence.
  7.  It is unlawful for the employer to use the taking of earned sick time as a negative factor in any employment action such as evaluation, promotion, disciplinary action or termination or to otherwise discipline an employee for using sick time.

This new law provides minimum benefits and employers can adopt or retain earned sick time policies that are more beneficial than the requirements of this Law.  Sick leave also continues to be subject to collective bargaining.  However, any sick time employment benefit program or plan cannot provide any lesser sick time rights than the rights established under this law.

Massachusetts Civil Service Residency Amended

The Governor has just signed the budget which includes an amendment to MGL c. 31 sec 58.

C. 31 sec 58 is a section of the Civil Service Law and addresses “Municipal police officers and firefighters; qualifications.”  It includes a residency requirement for civil service police officers and firefighters, stating that within 9 months of appointment a person must reside within the city or town where he/she is employed or at any other place in the Commonwealth that is within 10 miles of the perimeter of such city or town. The Amendment to sec 58, included in the budget, provides that a city or town may increase the 10 mile residency limit under a collective bargaining agreement negotiated under chapter 150E. Therefore, police and firefighter unions in civil service cities and towns may now negotiate to expand the civil service 10 mile residency requirement of sec 58 beyond the 10 miles.

What remains unclear is the relationship of this amendment and the residency requirement of MGL c. 41 sec 99A which requires police officers and firefighters to reside “within fifteen miles of the limits of said city or town.”  For any city or town where the police and fire departments are not covered by the civil service statute, this new amendment will have no impact and those police officers and firefighters continue to be covered by c. 41 sec 99A and must reside within 15 miles of the City or Town where he/she is employed. As for civil service communities, at a minimum, the amendment to c. 31 sec 58 certainly provides for collective bargaining in order to increase the 10 mile limit of sec 58 to the 15 mile limit of sec. 99A.

Based upon the case Mulrain v. Board of Selectmen of Leicester, 13 Mass App Ct. 48 (1982) it is reasonable to take the position that the 15 mile limit of c. 41 sec 99A already superseded the 10 miles requirement of c. 31 sec 58 since the Mulrain  case addressed the conflict between the 2 statutes and stated that:

“We hold that the more specific provisions of the new sec 99A control the more general provisions of new c. 31 sec 58, concerning the effect of town by-laws.”

However, the Mulrain decision did not specifically address the conflict between the 10 mile and 15 mile limits.

When the Civil Service Commission recently decided the case of Erikson v. Rockland Fire Department, I-12-100, (January 24, 2013), it found that c. 31 sec 58 continued to require civil service firefighters to reside within 10 miles of the city or town where he/she was employed. That case did not address the conflict with c. 41 sec 99A and was a Civil Service Commission decision, not a judicial determination. Furthermore, when the Appeals Court in City of Lynn vs. Lynn Police Association, 12-P-1122 (March 27, 2013), addressed the applicability of c. 41 sec 99A to the City of Lynn police officers, it affirmed that the 15 mile limit of c. 41 sec 99A applied and that under the provisions of c. 41 sec 99A the only way that a city or town can impose a more stringent residency requirement is through collective bargaining. Therefore the Appeals Court made it clear that the 15 mile limit of c. 41 sec 99A governed even though Lynn is a civil service community.  The Court made no reference to c. 31 sec 58.

Therefore, as a result of this amendment to c. 31 sec 58, public safety unions can now bargain over the appropriate distance for a residency obligation.  At a minimum the bargaining can move the 10 mile requirement to 15 miles so as to reconcile c. 41 sec 99A with c.31 sec 58.  However, since this amendment is the Legislature’s most recent action concerning residency for civil service police and firefighters, under the principles of the Mulrain case, it certainly can be argued that municipal employers and public safety unions can bargain for a distance in excess of the 15 mile limit since the new amendment does not put any cap on the appropriate distance for a residency requirement and merely says that the distance may be increased under a collective bargaining agreement negotiated under chapter 150E.

In addition, there continue to be bills being considered by the Legislature to further address residency requirements for police and firefighters.  Some would increase the mile limitation and others would limit the residency requirement to a period of years and still others would preclude requiring residency within a city or town. We will continue to monitor the progress of these other bills and inform you if anything else changes.  Stay tuned..

Massachusetts Public Employee Benefit Changes Under Pension Reform

On November 18, 2011 Governor Deval Patrick signed Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2011, “An Act Providing for Pension Reform and Benefit Modernization.” This is the third pension reform measure passed in the last three years, and significantly changes the benefit structure for all newly hired Massachusetts public employees. In addition, the law increases benefits for certain retired members and survivors.  The law also changes certain rules affecting current employees. Below is a summary of the significant modifications under the new law.

Changes Affecting Current Active Public Employees

  • Anti-Salary Spiking: The new law limits the annual increase in pensionable earnings Individuals who retire on or after 4/2/2012.  Increases of more than 10% in salary will not be included in calculating the average pensionable earnings over the previous two year prior to retirement. This provision does not apply to bona fide job changes, payments for additional services that are otherwise eligible for inclusion, and other exempted payments.
  • Buyback Increase: Interest charged on buybacks and certain other service purchases increases if the employee does not make the payment within the first year of membership or within one year from 4/2/2012.

Changes Affecting Current Retirees:

  • Cost of Living Increases: Future COLA increases for retirees will be based on the first $13,000 instead of $12,000.
  • Minimum Pension Benefit: Effective 4/2/2012, the minimum pension for members who retired with at least 25 years of creditable service is increased from $10,000/year to $15,000/year.
  • Surviving Spouse: Effective 4/2/2012, the minimum benefit paid to the surviving spouse of a member who dies while in service increases from $250/month to $500/month.
  • Post-Retirement Earnings: Effective 4/2/2012, members retired for at least one year may earn an additional $15,000/year in post-retirement earnings.

Changes Affecting New Public Employees Hired on or after April 2, 2012:[i]

  • Minimum Retirement Age: The minimum retirement age is raised from 55 to 60 for Groups 1 and 2
  • Group 4 Retirement Age: The minimum retirement is raised from 45 to 50 for Group 4
  • Age Factors: The new law reduces the age factors in the retirement formula.
  • Average Salary for Calculation of Pension Benefit: The salary average period used in the retirement benefit calculation formula is lengthened from 3 years to 5 years.
  • Contribution Rate: Reduces the contribution rate by 3% (e.g., from 11% to 8%) once a member has 30 years of creditable service.


[i] These changes also affect employees who re-enroll in the retirement system (after taking a refund)  after April 2, 2012

Superior Court Rules Police Officers Entitled To Quinn Bill Benefits

A Boston Police officer and a Wellesley police sergeant received good news this week when Superior Court judge Carol Ball ruled that the state Board of Higher Education had to certify their master’s degrees in criminal justice as eligible for benefits under the Quinn Bill educational incentive program. [The decision can be found here.] Boston Police Officer Miguelangelo Pires and Wellesley Sergeant Glen Gerrans, with the support of their unions, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, sued the Board of Higher Ed after the Board refused to allow them to earn Quinn Bill educational incentive benefits for their master’s degrees.

The case arose after the Legislature amended the Quinn Bill – which provides salary increases for police officers who earn advanced degrees in law and law enforcement – to tighten the academic requirements for the educational institutions where officers were earning their degrees. The new academic restrictions eliminated a number of schools from the list of eligible institutions, but a grandfather clause in the legislation stated that anyone enrolled in one of the previously-listed schools before January 1, 2004, could continue in that program and his or her degree would qualify for Quinn Bill benefits. Both Officer Pires and Sgt. Gerrans registered for classes in the Boston University master’s program in the fall of 2003, but they didn’t start classes until after January 1, 2004. After they completed their degrees in 2005, the Board of Higher Education refused to approve them. According to the Board, ‘enrolled’ meant ‘taking classes’, so in its view Pires and Gerrans weren’t enrolled in time to fall under the grandfather clause.

The officers approached their unions, who enlisted the help of Sandulli Grace attorneys Joseph Sandulli and Susan Horwitz, who attempted to negotiate with the Board of Higher Education to resolve this issue, which did not involve many officers. Ultimately, negotiations broke down and Sandulli Grace attorney John M. Becker filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pires and Gerrans against the Board of Higher Education. The officers argued that the plain meaning of ‘enrolled’ is to register and that the Board’s interpretation of enrolled as taking classes was inconsistent with common understanding and legal precedents. This week, a Superior Court judge agreed with the police officers and ruled that they were covered by the grandfather clause and so are entitled to Quinn Bill benefits for their master’s degrees. As the judge stated, “the meaning of ‘enrolled’ is limited to registration, and as such, reflects the intent of the Legislature to permit police officers who have registered for degrees in criminal justice programs certified by the Board prior to January 1, 2004 to benefit from their efforts toward obtaining further education.” Congratulations to Officer Pires and Sgt. Gerrans – their efforts toward obtaining further education are finally paying off.

Public Employee’s Stress, Anxiety Caused By Negative Publicity and Prisoner Harassment Is Covered Under Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act, SJC Rules.

Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Cosmo Bisazza’s Case, SJC-10183 (Nov. 20, 2008), that mental and emotional injuries are analyzed under the same standard as physical injuries under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  An employee is eligible for workers’ compensation if the employee “receives a personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment.”  G. L. c. 152, §26.  The legislation defines “personal injury” to include an emotional or mental injury if “the predominant contributing cause of such disability is an event or series of events occurring within any employment.”  G. L. c. 152, §1.  The SJC held that disabling stress and anxiety caused by negative media coverage and prisoner harassment may be covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act.

In this case, a correction officer suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and stopped working after he was falsely accused by inmates and the media of abusing inmates including convicted child molester and former priest John Geoghan (Geoghan was later murdered by another prisoner).  Initial media coverage in the wake of Geoghan’s murder included accusations that unnamed officers harassed Geoghan.  Thereafter, prisoners taunted the officer and threatened to “get” him and spread lies to the media about his treatment of Geoghan.  Newspapers subsequently reported prisoner allegations that the officer tortured Geoghan and placed excrement in his cell.  Though the officer ultimately was transferred and cleared of all misconduct, a psychiatrist concluded that he suffered from PTSD as a result of work-related trauma, including inmate harassment and negative publicity.  The psychiatrist further concluded that the misleading press coverage was more at fault for the PTSD than the actual prisoner harassment.  A board of the Division of Industrial Accidents, which is the state agency that handles disputes under the Workers’ Compensation Act, granted benefits to the officer.

On appeal, the SJC rejected the employer’s argument that mental and emotional injuries require a higher standard of “work-relatedness” than physical injuries.  The SJC also upheld the DIA’s conclusion that the officer’s injuries were sufficiently work related. 

The Court’s decision in Cosmo Bisazza’s Case contains at least two interesting aspects.  First, the Court declined to rule on whether PTSD caused only by negative publicity related to job performance qualifies for workers’ compensation.  While the Court agreed that the negative press was the predominant cause of the PTSD, it also noted that prior to the media coverage, the prisoners harassed the officer and threatened to spread lies about his treatment of Geoghan to the media.  The negative publicity, therefore the SJC concluded, was an extension of the inmates’ campaign of work-place harassment against the officer, rather than an independent phenomenon. 

Second, the Court appeared to distance itself from the one of the more repugnant Workers’ Compensation decisions in the past.  In Collier’s Case, 331 Mass. 374 (1954), the Court ruled that a waitress was ineligible for benefits after she was beaten by a male customer after work, after the two had argued during her earlier shift.  The SJC stated in a footnote, “Although we need not decide the point, it is questionable whether the court would rule as it did in Collier’s Case, 331 Mass. 374 (1954), if those same facts were before it today.”