New State Law Updates Veterans Time Off for Veterans Day
On July 14, 2016, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an Act Relative to Housing Operations, Military Service and Enrichment (“The HOME Act”).
Massachusetts has previously required that employers provide leave to military veterans wanting to participate in Veterans Day or Memorial Day exercises, parades, or services in their communities of residence. Previously, employers had the discretion to determine if that time off from work would be paid or unpaid. The HOME Act amends the law to require employers with 50 or more employees grant the leave of absence on Veterans Days with pay, provided the employee provides “reasonable notice” of the leave. The new law does not require employers to provide paid leave for Veterans on Memorial Day.
What does it mean?
Employers may have some challenges in regards to compliance with this new holiday law, because this is the only holiday law of its kind. No other holiday law requires employees to be paid for their participation in related activities. In the case that your company is already closed on these days, you may decide to keep the current holiday pay practice in place.
Who is considered a veteran?
The new law defines a veteran as “any person, with an honorable discharge and who served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or Air Force of the United States, or on full time National Guard duty for not less than 90-days active service, at least one day of which was for wartime service.” It also includes any person who served in wartime and was awarded a service-connected disability or a Purple Heart. Note that the leave provisions do not apply to employees whose services are “essential and critical to the public health and safety” and determined to be “essential to the safety and security” of the employer.
Veterans as a Protected Class
The HOME Act also amends the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act by adding “veteran status” as a protected category. Employers must now treat “veteran status” as a protected class, much like race, ancestry, color, religion, etc.
How should I handle these changes?
If you feel that your organization employs veterans that will benefit from these changes, we suggest having a process in place similar or the same to requesting time off. You can decide to ask for verification of their service or you may already have this information on file. Employers should update their employee handbook policies and procedures to reflect the new leave entitlements and see if veteran status is already listed in the protected class status and be sure to communicate the changes to their employees. This will ensure that the proper paid or unpaid leave time tracking, and in the event of multiple veterans being out that day, you are able to still maintain workloads for those days. Veterans Day is observed on Friday, November 11 this year so you need to be aware of this new ruling.