Gov. Charlie Baker has signed legislation allowing businesses to avoid steep spikes in unemployment insurance taxes this spring and summer by spreading the cost over the next 20 years, but the administration and lawmakers still face pressure to use federal relief funds to remove some of that burden from employers, the State House News Service reported.
The Arlington State House delegation joined their colleagues and gave final approval to a bill to guarantee Covid emergency paid leave to workers, as well as avoid drastic increases in unemployment-insurance rates paid by employers.
On May 20, Sen. Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Reps. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington) and (D-Cambridge), voted with the majority on the measure. Gov. Baker had returned the bill with an amendment. He signed the bill May 25.
Up to 5 days
The bill aims to ensure that all Massachusetts employees, including front-line workers in hospitals and classrooms, will receive emergency leave for up to five paid days off for Covid-related concerns, including paid leave from work to attend a vaccine appointment.
“I am pleased we are able to provide much-needed relief to our businesses and working families, especially through long-overdue emergency paid sick leave benefits for all workers,” Friedman, vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a May 27 news release. “This legislation will protect public health and support an equitable economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.”
“I am grateful to my Arlington legislative colleagues and my colleagues throughout the Commonwealth for working with me on establishing emergency paid sick time in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Garballey. “I was proud to work with Representative Donato and Raise Up Massachusetts in initiating and filing emergency paid sick time legislation. Massachusetts workers need access to emergency paid sick time if they are sick with Covid-19 or need to care for a sick family member.”
“The new emergency paid sick time law is an important new policy, helping individuals and families at a difficult time,” said Rep. Rogers. “In addition, we help many small business owners by preventing an unmanageable spike in unemployment insurance rates.”
Massachusetts workers would be eligible for emergency paid leave should they be diagnosed with Covid-19, required to isolate, or need to care for a family member due to the virus. Building on efforts to increase vaccination rates in Massachusetts, employees would also be able to take emergency paid leave in order to receive a Covid vaccine, or if they have common vaccine side effects in the immediate days following the vaccine. This will ensure Massachusetts workers do not have to choose between a paycheck or access to the vaccine. Employees taking Covid emergency leave would maintain all benefits to which they are entitled, such as health insurance, vacation leave, and sick leave.
Capped at $850 a week
As in previous versions of this legislation, employees are eligible for up to five days of paid leave, at their regular rate of pay, capped at $850 per week—the same maximum weekly benefit provided for in the Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave law. Employers covered by federal legislation providing for paid leave will have the cost of providing such leave paid for through the federal tax credit. For all other employers, the bill creates a $75 million Covid-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Fund to reimburse eligible employers for providing their employees with emergency paid sick leave. The state requirement for paid leave would extend until Sept. 30, 2021, or until the fund is exhausted.
The legislation also answers calls to address unanticipated unemployment insurance (UI) rate spikes caused by increases to the solvency assessment. In cases where businesses are currently set to see dramatic increases in UI rates due to the pandemic, this bill would spread those costs over a 20-year period via a surcharge, effectively reducing rates in the near term and giving businesses additional relief as the pace of business in Massachusetts picks back up. This change builds on previous legislation passed this year by the Legislature to freeze the rate schedule for employers.
During the Covid-19 public health crisis, the surge of pandemic-related unemployment claims raised concerns among employers regarding disproportionate rises to their unemployment claims costs. To prevent such rises, the Legislature acted to insulate employers from employer-specific claims by temporarily diverting all Covid-related unemployment claims into a shared solvency account. This legislation would move all such Covid-related UI claims filed through August 1, 2021 into a new Covid claims account, further stabilizing the state’s UI system by undoing the solvency-related rate spikes.
This news announcement was published Tuesday, June 1, 2021.
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