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Paid sick leave: a good law and a good process

With input from the business community, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has created a final set of rules for paid sick leave.
With input from the business community, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has created a final set of rules for paid sick leave.(Globe staff)

Last fall, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum that gives most workers in the state the chance to earn sick leave, with pay. As a policy, this is both sensible and humane. For public health reasons, sick people should stay home. And no one should be forced to choose between going to work while sick — or caring for a sick child — and losing a day’s pay.

Still, as the July 1 deadline approaches for the law to take effect, some business owners have raised renewed concerns. Many cite fears of abuse and the burdens of implementing a one-size-fits-all policy. But one-size-fits-all isn’t what the Commonwealth is getting. Over the past six months, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has drawn extensive input from the business community, and used it to create a final set of rules, published last week, meant to accommodate specific concerns.

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For example: Employees will need to give reasonable notice of their absence, in case they need to be replaced; that requirement is modeled on the way schools handle the hiring of substitute teachers. The referendum called for workers to be able to take leave in small increments in order to attend routine medical appointments. But delivery-truck drivers – who must show up at an appointed time — will have to abide by a so-called “bakery rule” and take a full shift’s worth of leave at a time.

Seasonal workers, whose employers fear abuse on glorious late-summer days, will have to provide a doctor’s note for sick leave taken within two weeks of the endpoint of their jobs. Per diem workers will face a “24-hour rule:” You can’t get paid leave for a shift you signed up for within the past day. And businesses that already have paid leave policies in place are getting a “safe harbor” period: an extra six months to come into compliance with the law.

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Time will tell if abuses still come, or unforeseen problems arise, and the Legislature needs to step in. But history is promising. San Francisco passed a citywide paid sick leave ordinance in 2006; a 2011 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the vast majority of workers took fewer sick days than entitled to by law, and a quarter of them took no sick days at all. Here in Massachusetts there may be some administrative hassles at the start. But overall, the Commonwealth should be proud of being in the forefront of national public policy — and for this thoughtful, reasoned approach to implementing an important law.