On January 7, 2015, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law An Act Relative to Parental Leave (Parental Leave Act). Effective April 7, 2015, the new law essentially makes the existing Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA) gender neutral, so that the protections under the MMLA apply equally to both men and women. The Massachusetts Parental Leave Act also extends benefits to the placement of a child pursuant to a court order, in addition to coverage for birth and adoption, both of which protections are covered for women under the MMLA.
The Massachusetts Parental Leave Act requires employers with six or more employees to provide eligible employees with 8 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Full-time employees become eligible for leave after the completion of an initial probationary period set by the employer, but no longer than three months. If no period is set, employees become eligible after three consecutive months of work. Part-time employees are not eligible for leave under the law. Employees must provide employers with notice at least two weeks prior to the date he or she plans to begin leave, or as soon as possible if the delay is outside the employee’s control.
The law generally requires that employees be returned to the same or similar position with the same salary and benefits after leave ends, though exceptions apply where layoffs occur. If two employees of the same employer are parents of the same child, the employees will only receive a total of 8 weeks between them, rather than 8 weeks each (for a total of 16 weeks). Where applicable, parental leave may be taken more than once annually under the Parental Leave Act.
Parental leave may be paid or unpaid, or may exceed 8 weeks at the discretion of the employer. If an employer provides more than 8 weeks of leave, but does not extend status and benefit protections beyond the required 8 weeks, the employer must inform the employee in writing before leave begins that loss of reinstatement or benefits will result from taking longer than 8 weeks.
Employers must post notice of employees’ rights under the Parental Leave Act and the employer’s related polices in an area where employees can see them. Similar to the Maternity Leave Act, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is responsible for enforcing provisions of the Parental Leave Act, and employees who believe their rights have been violated under the law must file a complaint with the MCAD within 300 days of the alleged violation in order to protect their rights.
On Wednesday, January 21, 2015, Partner, Todd J. Bennett, joined colleague Scott Heidorn of Bergstresser & Pollock P.C., to speak about taking and defending depositions for the Massachusetts Bar Association’s “Feed Your Mind: Legal Lunch Series.” The monthly lunch series, hosted by the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Civil Litigation Section and Young Lawyers Division, provides civil litigators of all experience levels with an opportunity to discuss selected areas of law and exchange ideas in a collegial setting. Attorney Bennett and Attorney Heidorn co-led a lively, informative conversation on such topics as the rules on taking and defending depositions; how to prepare deposition questions; the proper ways to put forth objections and respond to improper objections from opposing counsel; and the merits of different styles of questioning.
On July 1, 2015, MGL Chapter 149, Section 148C, Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time For Employees law goes into effect, and with it thousands of employees begin accruing time-off rights that were not previously enjoyed.
Who gets sick time off?
The voter approved initiative potentially entitles all non-federal government workers in Massachusetts sick time off from work to care for the employee’s child, spouse, parent, parent of a spouse, or for the employee him or herself. Employees of Massachusetts cities and towns, however, will only be covered by the law if application of the statute is accepted by vote or appropriation of the city or town.
How is it earned?
Covered employees begin accumulating sick time hours on the later of July 1, 2015, or their date of hire – however an employee cannot begin to use accrued sick days until ninety (90) days after the first day of their employment.
One hour of sick time off under the law is earned for every thirty (30) hours worked by an employee. Employees who are exempt from the overtime rules established by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act are assumed to work forty (40) hours a week for purposes of accumulating sick time, unless they work less than forty (40) hours a week in which case the actual hours a week worked govern their accumulation of sick time.
How is it used?
When the sick time is foreseeable, employees are expected to make a good faith effort to give advance notice of use of the intended leave.
Earned sick time can be used to take time off from work to care for the employee’s child, spouse, parent, parent of a spouse, or for the employee him or herself. The sick time can also be used to address the physical, psychological, or legal effect of domestic violence. A physical or mental illness that requires home care or professional medical care creates justification for use of the sick time. Routine medical appointments are also covered by the act, as is preventive medical care. In addition to covering biological, adopted, foster children, stepchildren, and legal wards, the term child includes “a child of a person who has assumed the responsibilities of parenthood.” Similarly, the term parent includes biological, adoptive, foster or step-parent of an employee or employee’s spouse, as well as a “person who assumed the responsibility of parenthood when the employee or employee’s spouse was a child.”
An employee is entitled to use up to forty (40) hours of sick time during any single calendar year. Up to forty (40) hours of earned sick time can be carried over from one calendar year into the next.
Who is entitled to paid sick time?
Employees of employers with eleven (11) or more employees are entitled to paid sick time off under the statute. Earned paid sick time involves compensation at the same hourly rate as the employee earns at the time of the leave. Employees of employers with ten (10) or less employees are also entitled to sick time under the statute, but such time off is unpaid.
Can an employer ask for a doctor’s note?
The statute expressly allows an employer to require certification of the basis of the sick time if earned sick time covers more than twenty four (24) consecutively scheduled work hours, although the employer may not require that the documentation explain the nature of the illness of details of domestic violence. The statute implicitly, although not expressly, forbids an employer from asking for certification to justify the use of earned sick time if the leave covers less than twenty four (24) consecutively scheduled work hours.
Do employers who give paid vacation time have to give paid sick time too?
Employers of eleven (11) or more employees who provide paid time off under a vacation or other paid time off policy, and who provide employees with at least as much paid time off as the employee would have under the Earned Sick Time For Employees law which can be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as the Earned Sick Time For Employees law are not required to provide additional earned paid sick time leave.
Are employees entitled to be paid for unused earned sick time at the end of their employment?
No. The earned sick time, even if paid sick time, is a use-it-or-lose-it entitlement.
How is the law enforced?
After July 1, 2015, it shall be unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise (or attempted exercise) of any right under the Earned Sick Time For Employees law. It will also be unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee because the employee opposed a practice believed to be in violation of the law, or if the employee supports another employee’s exercise of rights under the law.
In addition to authorizing the Massachusetts Attorney General to enforce violations of the law, an employee claiming to be aggrieved by a violation the law may, ninety (90) days after the filing of a complaint with the Attorney General (or sooner if the Attorney General assents in writing), and within three (3) years after the violation, institute civil lawsuit for injunctive relief, damages, lost wages and benefits, costs, reasonable attorney fees, and treble damages as liquidated damages.
Will regulations be issued to clarify the operation of the Earned Sick Time For Employees law?
Eventually. The Massachusetts Attorney General is tasked with creating rules and regulations to carry out the purpose of the law, but as of the date of this posting no regulations have been adopted.
Should you have any questions or require guidance as to the sick leave law or any other employment legislation, please feel free to contact Bennett & Belfort P.C.
Bennett & Belfort P.C. is pleased to announce the addition of Attorney Sarah Amundson to the firm! Attorney Amundson was officially sworn in, and signed the register of attorneys, on November 19, 2014 at Historic Faneuil Hall. The ceremony was conducted by Maura S. Doyle, Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court and presided over by SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants. This was the first swearing in ceremony administered by Chief Justice Gants since his appointment in July, 2014.
Attorney Amundson is a recent graduate of Boston College School of Law where she focused on employment law and litigation. Prior to joining Bennett & Belfort P.C., Attorney Amundson interned with the Massachusetts Attorney General in the Trial Division, assisting with employment litigation, including discrimination matters and contract disputes. Attorney Amundson also worked in the Massachusetts State Senate in the Office of Senate Counsel where she focused on compliance with federal laws, constitutional law, and municipal charter revision.
Currently, Attorney Amundson practice focuses on employment and business law, civil litigation and landlord/tenant disputes.
Attorneys Eric LeBlanc and Todd Bennett recently secured a verdict of nearly $500,000 in a business litigation dispute involving shareholders of a closely held corporation. The Bennett & Belfort, P.C. trial team represented Peter Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. As outlined in an 18 page written opinion, the Hon. Justice Cornetta rendered a verdict in favor of both Mr. Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. on all counts.
This complex business litigation matter involved claims of breach of fiduciary duty and a shareholder derivative action. In addition to their success on all affirmative counts, the court issued judgment for Mr. Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. on all counterclaims and third party claims brought against them by shareholder, Richard Silva. Trowt v. Silva, et al. (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-119-14) (18 pages) (Cornetta, J.) (Essex Superior Court) (Civil Action No. 2011-01279) (Oct. 31, 2014).
Attorneys LeBlanc and Bennett successfully prosecuted individual claims on behalf of Mr. Trowt against Mr. Silva, for breach of fiduciary duty through the introduction of evidence of self-dealing, diversion of corporate opportunity and personal use of corporate resources by Mr. Silva. Bennett and Belfort, P.C. also prevailed on behalf of the shareholder derivative action on behalf of the corporate entity, Beverly Storage& Trailer Leasing, Inc. The Court not only found that Mr. Silva flagrantly violated his fiduciary duties to Mr. Trowt, but also that Mr. Silva improperly siphoned money out of Beverly Storage& Trailer Leasing, Inc., depriving the corporation of capital without a legitimate business purpose.
You can read more about the case in the latest edition of Lawyer’s Weekly.
Bennett & Belfort, P.C. is proud to announce that four of its members were selected as “Super Lawyers” by their peers.
Additionally, partners, David E. Belfort and Todd J. Bennett, were selected as two of 2014’s Top 100 lawyers in New England.
Bennett & Belfort, P.C. attorneys that were selected as 2014 Super lawyers are:
Congratulations to Attorneys Belfort, Bennett, LeBlanc and Mason.
On September 24, 2014, Partner, Todd Bennett, Esq., and Associate, Sarah Amundson, were quoted on Boston.com. The article entitled, “Should I be Paid if I’m On-Call?” was written by Elaine Varelas, of Keystone Partners, who is a regular contributor to the “Job Doc” section of Boston.com.
“Should I be Paid if I’m On-Call?” discusses the test for determining whether an employer must pay a non-exempt employee for being on-call. As with many aspects of the law, the application of this two part test can depend on many different factors. Failing to pay minimum wage and/or overtime wages can lead to a host of problems for employers, including the potential of facing a civil enforcement action by the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the Department of Labor, and an individual lawsuit or class action lawsuit seeking multiple damages and attorneys’ fees.
We are pleased to announce that Bennett & Belfort, P.C. Attorney Michael L. Mason recently defeated a motion for summary judgment on behalf of a disabled employee seeking the accommodation of a ramp up period when returning from a medical leave of absence.
In Cronin v. Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, a case alleging disability discrimination in the workplace, the Federal court found that there were sufficient material facts in dispute to permit a jury to consider the case. The plaintiff claims that his employer denied him a reasonable accommodation and terminated him due to his disability. After taking a medical leave, Cronin requested to return to work with accommodations including a ‘ramp up’ period to return to a full workload over a short period to acclimate to the job. The Defendant employer filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to dismiss the case. Defendant argued that the requested ‘ramp up’ period was not reasonable and that it engaged in sufficient discussions with the Plaintiff to meet its obligations to engage in an interactive dialogue. The Judge found that the case could go to trial, as there was sufficient evidence of bias against the Plaintiff and the company could have provided the modest accommodations that were requested.
This decision is significant because it reinforces the fact that a limited ramp up period can indeed amount to a reasonable accommodation. In addition, this case highlights the strict requirements of disability accommodation laws. It is not enough for an employer to merely engage in a perfunctory dialogue with an employee who requests disability accommodations. Under state and federal law, employers must evaluate accommodation requests in good faith, and they are required to provide accommodations that are reasonable and not unduly burdensome to the employer.
In this case, there was adequate evidence that the employer merely went through the motions in discussing Plaintiff’s requested workplace adjustments. As such the Court will allow a jury to consider whether the company was justified in rejecting Plaintiff’s request for a limited ramp up period, which led to his separation of employment.
This case illustrates the need for employees and employers to make a concerted effort to evaluate and discuss, in good faith, disability accommodations before reaching a final decision. Employer’s that simply go through the motions in the interactive dialogue when employees make requests for workplace accommodations do so at their peril.
In a case that modernizes the Massachusetts mechanics’ lien statute, M.G.L. c. 254 et seq., Bennett & Belfort Attorney Eric LeBlanc successfully argued that electronic signatures satisfy the mechanics’ lien statute’s “written contract” requirement. In the recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision Clean Properties, Inc. v. Riselli, the Middlesex Superior Court decided that “[n]othing in the mechanics’ lien statute requires a physical signature…on a piece of paper rather than an acceptance of written contract terms by an electronic signature that is conveyed by email.” (C.A. No. 2014-04742) (Salinger, J.)
In Clean Properties, it is alleged that Defendant, Carol Riselli, was provided with a written proposed contract by Clean Properties, Inc., an environmental services company, to perform environmental cleanup work on an emergency basis at Riselli’s property. Riselli apparently responded via email, stating that she agreed to the terms of the contract. After Clean Properties performed substantial work on the property, it is claimed Riselli failed to make a single payment. Clean Properties placed a mechanics’ lien on Riselli’s property, and initiated litigation to recover payment for its services. Riselli attempted to dissolve the mechanics’ lien, claiming that because there was no signed, written agreement, the “written contract” requirement of the mechanics’ lien statute was not satisfied. The Court disagreed.
Defendant unsuccessfully argued that “no written contract was ever formed because neither party affixed a handwritten signature to a paper form of the contract.” However, the Court appears to have been persuaded by the plain meaning of the Massachusetts Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“MUETA”), M.G.L. 110G et seq., which provides that an electronic record or acceptance by email results in a binding contract, and satisfies the statutory requirements of a “written contract.” The MUETA defines an electronic record as, “a record created, generated, sent, communicated, received or stored by electronic means,” and does not require a physical signature for it to be enforced.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth W. Salinger agreed and found on these facts that the email Riselli sent to Clean Properties, Inc., which contained her name in the signature block, and expressed her assent to be bound by the deal, formed a binding electronic record under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act.
The Clean Properties, Inc. v. Riselli decision is further evidence that the law is evolving to meet the pervasive use of new technology in business and society at large. In light of today’s wide use of electronic communications, this precedent adds clarity that both businesses and individuals can rely upon. The decision underscores that even in our rapidly evolving world of tweets, face book and electronic mail, the old adage coined by William Penn still holds true: “Rarely promise, but, if lawful, constantly perform.”
Until recently, it was thought that an employee’s waiver of rights to sue for past due compensation or wages as reflected in a signed release of claims had to be spelled out with precision. Since the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2012 decision in Crocker v. Townsend, in which the Court held that an employee’s release did not prevent him from filing a later claim under the Wage Act, many employers have included a specific reference to “the Massachusetts Wage Act” in their release provisions. However, a recent U.S. District Court decision – MacLean v. TD Bank, N.A. - states that a specific reference to the Wage Act is not required, and a release bars any claim for unpaid wages as long as the language is clear that the employee is waiving his or her right to be paid wages.
The Plaintiff in MacLean signed a severance agreement that involved the payment of approximately $500,000 in exchange for a release of all claims. The release provision included a waiver of claims “related to the payment of wages, bonuses, incentives, and other compensation” and rights relating to “compensation agreements.” However, the release did not specifically reference the Wage Act. Later, the Plaintiff filed suit, claiming that the Defendant failed to compensate him for 23 days of PTO time he had accrued.
Despite the Plaintiff’s argument that the release he signed was insufficient based upon the Crocker decision because there was no specific citation to the Wage Act, the U.S. District Court disagreed and held that the Crocker decision did not require a specific citation to the Wage Act. Instead, the Court opined that in order to validly release all claims under the Wage Act, a release only required a reference to the “rights and claims” under the Wage Act. Accordingly, the Court held that the release was sufficient to waive the Plaintiff’s later claims for non-payment of PTO time because it included “plainly worded and understandable references to the rights Plaintiff was giving up under the Wage Act”.
The MacLean decision is instructive, as many employers responded to the Crocker decision by including specific citations to the Wage Act in their releases. The U.S. District Court has now clarified that those specific citations are not necessary.