NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Earlier this month, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question requiring all private sector employers to provide their workers with up to 40 hours of sick leave per calendar year.

Under the measure known as Question 4--which passed by a 60% to 40% vote--the new law will also mandate that those businesses that have more than 11 employees will have to offer paid sick leave. By enacting the law, Massachusetts now joins California and Connecticut as the only states in the nation to require paid sick leave.

According to the measure, all private employers must provide their workers with a minimum of one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per calendar year, effective July 2015. However, employees cannot use any sick leave hours until 90 calendar days after the start of their employment and only as it accrues. And unlike unused vacation time, employers will not be required to pay out unused sick leave when a worker leaves or has his or her position terminated. 

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Workers can use paid sick leave when they are ill, injured or need to need to take care of an ailing child, spouse or parent, or to manage or address a domestic abuse situation at home. The law will cover part-time and temporary workers in addition to full-time workers.

The measure outlines that the employee must attempt to make a good faith effort in giving advanced notice if using sick time is foreseeable. But employers can only demand a doctor's note, or some other form of documentation, if the worker is absent for more than 24 consecutively scheduled work hours. Employers also stand to suffer from strict legal penalties if it denies a worker the right to use his or her accrued sick leave or retaliating after the sick leave is used.

The approval of the referendum offers leverage to a sick-leave movement that's been growing across the United States over the past several years. The cause has not only attracted labor unions, but also advocacy groups devoted to helping working women and single mothers.

"The win sends a strong message to legislators and candidates elsewhere about the political power of paid sick days," Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, told the Huffington Post. "Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike didn't just support paid sick days in Massachusetts, they demanded them."

Although many employers now voluntarily provide paid sick leave, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that†approximately 39% of the U.S. private-sector workforce has no paid sick time.

In particular, workers in low-wage positions in food service and retail make up a disproportionate number of employees deprived of paid sick leave. In fact, only one in three workers in the bottom quarter of the income scale has any paid sick leave; that goes for only one in four part-time workers.

In Massachusetts, two-thirds of workers have access to paid sick leave, according to The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

The Massachusetts measure was opposed by several chambers of commerce, as well as the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which released a statement asserting that the "red tape and mandate would be costly to small businesses and taxpayers."

Stephen Crawford of Crawford Strategies, a spokesperson for Raise Up Mass, disagrees.

There is no evidence that earned sick time has a negative impact on the economy. Studies on the impact of San Francisco's earned sick time law found that job growth was higher there than in surrounding counties after the law passed, says Crawford. Businesses who implement earned sick time find that it reduces employee turnover, increases productivity, and helps their bottom line. This law creates a level playing field and benefits responsible employers who already provide sick time but have to compete with companies that don't.

The Yeson4 campaign was piloted by Raise Up Massachusetts, which was the premier player in advocating for the passage of minimum wage hike this summer in Massachusetts. Specifically, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill passed by the state legislature in June that will hike the state minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2017.

Crawford believes that earned and paid sick leave go hand-in-hand with a higher minimum wage in creating a more sustainable atmosphere for employees to remain productive members of the workforce. He also thinks it boosts the overall well-being of the economy.

Earned sick time is good for families because everyone occasionally gets sick or needs to care for a sick child or take an elderly parent to the doctors, says Crawford, who notes that the law will benefit an estimated 910,000 in the Commonwealth. ìIt also helps local economies because it keeps money in the hands of people who then spend it in their neighborhood.

--Written by Laura Kiesel for MainStreet

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