Small Necessities Leave Act



Massachusetts enacted the Small Necessities Leave Act (SNLA) in 1998, expanding upon the rights granted by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). What Leave is Created? The SNLA grants eligible employees a total of 24 hours of unpaid leave during any 12 month period, over and above the leave granted under the FMLA. The types of leave covered by this act include leave to:



1. Participate in school activities directly related to “educational advancement” of the employee’s child. This would include parent-teacher conferences or other similar “back to school” activities, and even activities such as interviewing for a new school. Note that the term “school” is defined in the SNLA to include public or private elementary or secondary schools, Head Start programs, and licensed children’s day care centers. The SNLA incorporates the definition of “son or daughter” from the FMLA.



2. Attend routine medical or dental appointments - for example, routine checkups and vaccinations.



3. Accompany an “elderly relative” [a defined term in the SNLA, meaning someone at least 60 years old related by blood or marriage to the employee] to medical or dental appointments, or more broadly for the purpose of other professional services relating to elder care. This includes time off needed to arrange for professional care at a nursing home or other rehabilitation facility.




What Employers and Employees does the SNLA apply to? Like the FMLA, the SNLA applies to:


  • Employers who have employed 50 or more persons each working day during each of 20 or more calendar weeks in a current or preceding calendar year



  • Employees who also are eligible for FMLA leave, that is, to employees who: -have been with the employer at least 12 months; -have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months;






  • work where the employer employs at least 50 people either at that worksite or at work sites within a 75-mile radius.




How to Calculate Leave



Just like under the FMLA, the employer is permitted to choose the method for determining which “12-month period” applies when calculating the 24 hours of leave that may be taken by the employee. So, for example, the employer can choose a calendar year, a fiscal year (if different from the calendar year), a 12-month period based upon the employee’s date of hire, or a 12-month period starting when the employee requests a leave under this act. It doesn’t matter which method the employer uses, just so long as the employer applies the method consistently and uniformly to all covered employees.



How the SNLA Works

The logistics of how the SNLA operates likely will frustrate most HR professionals, because there are few actual requirements imposed upon employees. So, for example, the employee “must” give at least 7 days notice, but only if the requested leave is “foreseeable.” As a practical matter, employers are not likely to argue with an employee who gives less than 7 days notice so long as the employee uses those magic words – “this appointment wasn’t planned/foreseeable/etc.” In those instances, the employee must only give “such notice as is practicable.” Again, reasonable people can and will disagree about what this means.



Helpful Tips to Avoid Problems



1. Remember that leaves of absence can be taken intermittently - that is, it need not be taken all at one time.



2. Employers may not force an employee to take more SNLA leave than is needed. So, for example, if the employee needs to take off 2 hours in the morning to attend a parentteacher conference, the employer may not have a policy that provides that an employee must takeoff time in blocks of half days or full days. That being said, an employer may (but need not) require the employee to take leave in increments of not less than 1 hour.



3. Even though the leave is unpaid, covered employees may elect (or an employer may require) to substitute accrued paid time off (in whatever form) for leave taken under the SNLA.



4. The employee need not use the phrase “Small Necessities Leave Act” when requesting a leave of absence. Therefore, HR must use its best judgment when categorizing leave requests, and be certain to document, in the employee’s personnel record, all leave taken within the determined 12-month period.



5. Employers are given the option to require certification (from a doctor, a school, anursing home, or other appropriate facility) for leave requests. If the employer uses thisprocedure, the employer must place all such certificates, along with any written requests, in the employee’s personnel record. Therefore, HR must decide whether it wishes to undertake this additional record-keeping burden.



6. If an employee submits any type of medical documentation or information inconnection with a leave request or certification, the employer must treat those records as confidential, and must maintain those records separate from the employee’s personnel record.For that reason, employers may wish to instruct employees to not submit any such documentation or information, so as to avoid having to create a separate file for these materials.



7. Inexplicably, the SNLA does not mandate that the employer post the employee’s rights at the workplace. However, given that most employees are used to being notified of their rights as employees either by postings or by memoranda circulated within a company, it is strongly recommended that employers notify employees in writing of the rights afforded under the SNLA. This can be accomplished in the usual manner - that is, either by posting theinformation in a central location (mailroom, lunch or break room, etc.), or by making the information available by written memo or in electronic form. Doing so will help eliminate confusion about the employee’s rights and the employer’s obligations, and hopefully will result in employees being more conscientious about leave requests and compliance with notification requirements.

Attorney at Law