Last fall, voters approved a ballot question to give almost all Massachusetts workers the opportunity to earn paid sick time. The measure, which would affect nearly 1 million full-time and part-time employees, not only affords workers the dignity and respect they deserve, but makes eminent sense in terms of public health: Everyone in the workplace breathes a little easier when a colleague with the flu can keep his or her germs at home.
Although the ballot question passed with almost 60 percent of the vote, it still faced criticism from some businesses and nonprofits, which made the reasonable argument that they needed more time to change their administrative policies than that allowed by the July 1 deadline.
And that’s where Attorney General Maura Healey’s innovative “listening tour” comes in. Healey filed the new regulations with the secretary of state’s office on April 24 — as might have been expected. But it’s what she did in the weeks and months beforehand that is noteworthy: The attorney general’s office held 25 meetings across the state, and is conducting 11 more statewide public hearings and “listening sessions” to hear directly from business owners, nonprofit leaders, and employees. The result? A well-thought-out “safe harbor” measure that extends the deadline to Jan. 1, 2016, for employers who already are doing the right thing by offering some paid time off to their workers. The safe harbor provision applies to any employer who offers workers at least 30 hours of paid time off this year.
Safe harbor was rightly hailed by groups representing businesses, labor, and community organizations alike. Richard Lord, president and chief executive of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a business group, said, “Attorney General Healey deserves tremendous credit for responding to the concerns of employers seeking to understand a complex new law and to comply with its provisions in a responsible manner.”
Healey outlined this collaborative effort in a recent letter to state Senator Karen Spilka, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and urged the Senate to reject any requests to delay implementing the new law during the upcoming budget session. The Senate should recognize these labor-intensive and worthy efforts at compromise and resist any further delays. (The attorney general’s office will accept comments through June 10 before issuing the final regulations.)
Healey’s efforts on paid leave should certainly be commended; but the entire Commonwealth will benefit if her office continues to use this open, innovative approach to engage the public on other pressing issues as they arise.