What Massachusetts Employers Should Expect in 2021

By Sean P. O’Connor and Yetunde Buraimoh © Morgan, Brown & Joy January 4, 2021
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Boston waterfront

​Massachusetts employers should prepare for the legal developments that are expected to take place in the new year. 2021 is certain to bring new challenges, including with respect to the commencement of leave benefits under the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave law (PFML), changes to state minimum wage and premium pay requirements, and of course, further complications created by COVID-19. 

The following is a summary of impending changes employers should be mindful of in the new year.

Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave

One of the most significant changes for Massachusetts employers in 2021 is the commencement of leave benefits under the PFML.

In particular, beginning Jan. 1, covered individuals may use paid family and medical leave for the following reasons:

  • To bond with a child during the first 12 months after the child's birth or after adoption or foster placement of a child.
  • For exigencies relating to a family member's active duty or call to duty in the Armed Forces.
  • To care for a family member who is a covered servicemember.
  • To care for the individual's own serious health condition.

Beginning on July 1, eligible individuals will also be able to use paid family leave to care for a family member's serious health condition. Massachusetts employers should take steps to ensure that they are in compliance with the various PFML requirements, including with respect to their policies and employee handbooks. 

The PFML is a complex law, and employers should take care to make sure they understand it, are prepared to administer it and are equipped to address the new issues that will come with it. Of course, as employers consider the complexities of this new law and its implementation, they should not hesitate to contact their attorneys.

Massachusetts Minimum Wage and Premium Pay

Employers should remember that per the 2018 "Grand Bargain," there will be an incremental increase to the state minimum wage rate through 2023. Pursuant to the law's schedule, the state minimum wage rate increased to $13.50 per hour (from $12.75 per hour) and to $5.55 per hour for tipped employees (from $4.95 per hour) effective Jan. 1.

In addition, one of the key concessions to retail businesses under the law was the reduction of premium pay for Sundays and holidays. Pursuant to the law's five-year schedule, the rate of premium pay was reduced, effective Jan. 1, to 1.2 times employees' regular rate of pay. Notably, Juneteenth (June 19), will be one of the holidays impacted by these restrictions following its recognition as an official state holiday in 2020. 

Still, the law did not include three holidays in these changes: New Year's Day, Veteran's Day and Columbus Day. Accordingly, until further notice, employers should ensure they are still paying their nonexempt employees one and one-half times their regular rate for work performed on these three holidays.

Continued Impact of COVID-19

While we wish it were not the case, it is clear that COVID-19 will continue to impact our lives and our workplaces in 2021. Similar to 2020, it is difficult to predict exactly what changes and challenges we will face.

As has been the case throughout 2020, employers will need to be prepared in 2021 to monitor and adapt to changes in the reopening plan and related guidelines, including those concerning applicable safety standards, gathering orders, mask orders and travel restrictions.

In addition, the news of COVID-19 vaccines—while welcoming to many—will also raise some complex issues for employers that are considering whether to mandate them. Employers considering a mandatory vaccination policy should consult with their attorneys to discuss their potential implementation, including the impact of certain legal issues such as medical and religious accommodations.

Sean P. O'Connor and Yetunde Buraimoh are attorneys with Morgan, Brown & Joy in Boston. © 2021 Morgan, Brown & Joy. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission.

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