A Hole In The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law

Cup of tea with lemon for sick day

Being a leap year, there’s an extra day standing between us and spring. So, us New Englanders have to tough out winter even longer. February is the worst of the season and we’re still at the beginning. The cold temperatures usually mean that more of us are sick. CBS News recently reported that because the country has close to full employment, the places where we work have an increase in people, so the flu spreads even easier.

Whether it’s a cold, the flu or some other bug, there’s probably a lot of coughing, sneezing and sniffling where you work. Everyone says if you’re sick, don’t go in. Take a day or two off to rest and get better.

But that’s often easier said than done. Especially so soon after the holidays. Money spent on gifts may have left some in a fragile financial state and the holidays themselves may have been unpaid — further exacerbating the situation. Not all workers have paid holidays.

The time frame from the end of November through mid-January (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) often comes with several smaller weekly paychecks due to all the holidays. So taking unpaid time off at this time of year because of illness may not be an option. If anything, some workers may be trying to work extra time to make up for the money lost.

The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law is presumably meant to address most workers, but its focus is on permanent employees within larger companies – 11 employees or more. This law may seem fair on its face, but it’s not always fair in its application. Even though I had been working full time, one year, I ended up not having sick time available to use even though I earned it. Contract workers aren’t able to use sick leave in the same way (or sometimes at all) as permanent workers.

Contract vs Permanent

The term contract employee is used interchangeably with temporary employee. Both terms mean that the employee is hired via a contract for a particular job at a set rate of pay. This worker does not become part of the staff where they work and is not a permanent employee.

According to the American Staffing Association, about 17 million temporary and contract employees are hired each year in the United States by staffing companies. Most work full-time and enjoy having a flexible schedule. The average assignment is around two and a half months and can range from a few hours to several years.

Staffing statistics specific to Massachusetts give some insight as well. Annual sales are $4.3 billion. Each week, 68,100 temporary employees are part of the workforce in this state. Annually, that’s 354,200 people doing contract work in Massachusetts.

47% of these workers are in the engineering, IT and scientific sector. 15% are doing industrial work and another 15% are doing clerical and administrative work in an office. 7% are doing professional or managerial work. 12% are part of an uncategorized sector and 4% work in health care.

I’ve been a full-time contract attorney for many years, working at mostly large law firms in the Boston area. I’ve worked on dozens of projects. They have been as short as one day to as long as nearly four years. But as the previously stated statistics say, most recently, my projects have generally been two to three months.

To keep working steadily, I’m signed up with multiple agencies. Depending upon how long a project lasts, I might work for one agency for a year or more. Or I may work for several agencies for a few weeks and then for a few months. Most of these agencies I have worked with over many years. Each project may be new, but I am not a new employee. There is a work history.

The Problem: Using Massachusetts Sick Time

Earned sick time in Massachusetts provides that workers can earn and use up to 40 hours of sick time per year. Workers earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers can have their own policies providing more generous leave options than required by law.

Earning sick time isn’t the problem. The problem is using sick time that has already been earned. The regulations give some clarity. Sick time can’t be used until 90 days after the first date of actual work. Also, after a 12 month break in service, the 90-day vesting period starts again.

When a contractor is working on a project on average for about 75 days and works for multiple agencies, they may not return to the same agency for another year or more. In this scenario, the sick time that they earned is probably lost by the time they return to that employer.

This happened to me. It hasn’t happened often, but I went about one year where I couldn’t use the sick time that I had earned. By the next year, I had lost most if not all of it and had to start the 90 days again. This has also happened to colleagues. If this is happening to us, it might be happening to contractors in different sectors of the workforce as well.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “approximately 728,000 private sector workers gained access to earned sick time under the law; of those, 431,000 workers lacked paid leave benefits of any kind (including vacation) and are newly eligible to receive leave under the law.”

The Solution: Amend The Law

I’m one of those workers who for the most part didn’t have paid leave benefits before this 2015 law. I’m grateful for it. But hindsight is 2020 and so is the year. Since we’ve had five years to see how this law works, I believe it’s time to take a closer look and amend the law, so it works for more of us.

However, there is another issue. Does anyone care? I’m attuned to the gaps in the law because I have firsthand experience. I was talking to a friend at work about this and she said that nobody cares how it impacts us. It felt quite hurtful, but maybe it’s true.

I plan to contact my state legislators about an amendment — and it may come to nothing. But at least I wrote this and raised the issue. Much like when I wrote about the gap in the Family Medical Leave Act when it comes to siblings. I want others in similar situations to know that they are not alone. It’s happening to other people as well. And even though it may not be most people, someone else does care.

Tax Day: Tax Tips for Bloggers

*This post is not tax or legal advice. See full disclosure below.*

1040 Tax form

It’s Tax Day! At least for those of you not in Maine or Massachusetts. We have until April 19th to file our returns, because of Patriots’ Day today.

Back in 2012 and 2014, I wrote some posts with tax tips for bloggers. Since the subject of blogging income interests me and many readers as well, I thought I’d revisit the topic. There’s always a new crop of bloggers out there!

Generally, if you earn money blogging, that is considered income. You may have accidentally become an entrepreneur by turning your passion project into a job. Or maybe from the beginning, you wanted to earn money by blogging.

The way you think about your blogging work is key, especially when it comes to the IRS. Once you have the intent to make a profit and you treat your blogging like a business, then you may be considered self-employed.

While you may not be earning full-time money that you can live on, it doesn’t matter. You may be considered self-employed even with a part-time business. The threshold for earnings is surprisingly low according to the IRS.

You have to file an income tax return if your net earnings from self-employment were $400 or more. If your net earnings from self-employment were less than $400, you still have to file an income tax return if you meet any other filing requirement …

There are benefits to treating your blogging as work that you are doing for profit versus a hobby. Below is an IRS rule to remember.

In general, taxpayers may deduct ordinary and necessary expenses for conducting a trade or business or for the production of income. Trade or business activities and activities engaged in for the production of income are activities engaged in for profit.

If you are paying to eat at a restaurant, so you blog about your meal and you are earning advertising revenue on your blog, you might be able to deduct the cost of your meal as an ordinary and necessary expense for conducting the business of your blog.

These are just a few things to think about when you earn money from blogging. Below are links to some recent articles that go into more detail. You may find them interesting and helpful as well.

If you already filed for 2015, this post may come to late, but you can always start planning for next year!

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Tax Tips for Bloggers [Intuit Turbo Tax]

Travel Blogger Denied Tax Writeoff For European Backpacking Trip [Forbes]

Tax Time: What Bloggers Need to Know [Katy Widrick]

Business Expenses for Bloggers (What can I deduct?) [Brilliant Business Moms]

Taxes for Food Bloggers: Deductions. [Fervent Foodie]

The Blogger’s Guide to Tax Deductions [Kimi Who?]

Tax Filing Tips for Freelance Bloggers in the US, UK and Canada [Be a Freelance Blogger]

Home Office Tax Deductions for Small Business Owners [NerdWallet]

Favorite tax deductions of personal finance bloggers [PolicyGenius]

Blogging and Taxes – What You Need to Know [Making Sense of Cents]

Tax Tips for Freelancers in 2016 [Artisan Blog]

Blog Tip Thursday: Tax Tips for Bloggers, Part 1 [Healthy Living Blogs]

Blog Top Thursday: Tax Tips for Bloggers, Part 2 [Healthy Living Blogs]

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Disclaimer: While I am a Massachusetts licensed attorney, I’m not in private practice and not seeking clients. This post is not meant as legal or tax advice. Every individual has unique circumstances and questions. While I love comments on this blog and emails, no tax or legal questions will be answered here or via email. Please consult an attorney or accountant licensed in your jurisdiction for specific questions. The information contained in this post is for general informational purposes only and geared toward bloggers in the United States.

Photo: Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Top 8 Links: The Business of Sponsored Blog Posts

cash for sponsored blog postsThe blogging community is a very supportive one. Since I’ve found so much good information from other bloggers, whenever I find information that I find helpful, I try to share it too.

My blog posts Tax Tips For Bloggers and Tax Deductions & Food Bloggers seem to be helpful to many.

I just found some posts to help bloggers when it comes to pricing sponsored blog posts. For those of us who try to make money doing what we love, these posts offer some food for thought.

I’ve certainly gained some new insight. Whether you are a food, travel, fashion or any other type of blogger, these links may help you with sponsored blog posts too!

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{Blogging} The Money Equation for Sponsored Post (Wooden Spoons Kitchen)

Reader Q & A: How much should I charge for a blog post or sponsored post? (Secret Blogger’s Business)

Are You Being Conned? Fair Sponsored Blog Post Rates and Best Practice Guidelines (Successful Blogging)

How Much Bloggers Charge to Publish Sponsored Content (MarketingProfs)

Sponsored Post Rates: Are You Undercharging? (Babble)

How Much to Charge for Sponsored Content – is This a Question You’ve Ever Asked Yourself? (ProBlogger)

How To Set A Sponsored Post Rate (Bonjour, Blogger!)

How to price for sponsored post and recipe development (Kitchen Table Mastery)

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Photo Credit: 100 dollar bills by Stockvault.net