Workers' rights organization skewers Governor Baker for early end to the COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Time Program

March 15, 2022


Jeff Newton, MassCOSH Communications Director
(857) 301-7730

Workers' rights organization skewers Governor Baker for early end to the COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Time Program
Says program is still needed and workers that needed it most did not receive benefit

BOSTON Today, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) criticized the Governor for ending the COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Time Program. On March 1st, it was announced that the program would end March 15, with funds allocated for reimbursement set to be exhausted before the initial deadline at the end of April. COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave was meant to ensure that workers had access to additional paid and job-protected sick leave that could be used for seeking care for COVID- related sickness, quarantine, vaccinations, testing, and family care.

“The program was a critical public health resource that not only kept workers safe at work by reducing the risk of workplace exposures, but also ensured that our families and communities could be safe as well,” said Brenda Quintana, the MassCOSH Immigrant Worker Center Organizer. “However, there have been many issues with workers’ ability to access this benefit, and particularly for low-wage workers and essential workers.”

Despite the law requiring that employers make this benefit available to all workers and having non-retaliation provisions, the law lacks any meaningful enforcement or penalties for noncompliance. As a result, many employers have outright refused to offer this leave benefit to their employees by forcing workers to take unpaid time off while quarantining, use accumulated sick time, or force workers to come to work sick or risk losing their jobs.

“Emergency Paid Sick Time for COVID-19 should not be expiring right now,” explains David McKenna, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at Greater Boston Legal Services. “We continue to see workers getting fired for getting COVID. The other problem we see is that no one is enforcing COVID sick time. The Attorney General doesn’t have authority to enforce it. The law doesn’t say if workers have a right to sue their employers for sick pay and job protection. So yes it’s a good program, but it is basically voluntary for employers to follow or ignore the law. I hope that the legislature builds on the lessons learned to strengthen and extend Emergency Paid Sick Time.”

Many workers have in fact lost their jobs because of requesting time off after testing positive COVID-19. The program provided no clear legal processes to address these violations.

“I was fired in December after I called work to tell them I had tested positive for COVID,” said Ariel, a restaurant worker who did not want his last name used. “Since then, I have been working with legal services to try to recover the pay I was entitled to under the Emergency Paid Sick Time Law. My former employer continues to refuse to cooperate, and I have no choice but to take the case to court. Since protections for workers are minimal when companies violate the law, workers like me have to seek other alternatives to have that right respected, which is why I sought help with the MassCOSH Worker Center.”

"When employers can so easily undermine state laws without consequence, and workers are left without meaningful protections against retaliation and non-payment, the lives and public health of all workers are at risk," said Milagros Barreto, Director of the MassCOSH Immigrant Worker Center.

Further, MassCOSH maintains that the pandemic is not yet over, and many workers are still being exposed to the virus on the job, now without the safety net of mask mandates, other workplace protections, or paid time off. Some workers are still recovering from long COVID cases contracted by workplace exposure that have left them unable to work full time.
Juan Pablo Osgueda contracted COVID-19 from his co-workers in March of 2020 while working in construction. He became very ill with the virus, was hospitalized, and has since suffered many long-haul symptoms.

"When I was in the hospital because of COVID the only thing I thought about was how my children and my family were going to get ahead and now that I no longer have COVID, my situation is worse because my health is extremely bad and there is no help from the government for workers like me that COVID change our lives,” said Osgueda.

While the program is set to end today, employers will have until April 29 to submit requests for qualifying leave between May 28, 2021, and March 15, 2022. MassCOSH is calling on the Governor to (1) extend the program; (2) provide enforcement and create a mechanism for administrative complaints to addresses employer misconduct that prevents workers from accessing emergency sick time benefits for which they are eligible, and (3) that the State sets clear criteria for when the program does end for when should go back into effect should COVID rates rise again in the future.

About MassCOSH  
MassCOSH strives to ensure that all workers earn their living and return home alive and well. MassCOSH unites workers, unions, and community groups with environmental and health activists, to end dangerous work conditions, to organize for safe, secure jobs, and to advocate for healthy communities. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions.