Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has dramatically affected the lives and employment of nearly everyone in Massachusetts. The legal response to this crisis is still unfolding. Here are where things currently stand, along with several employment law resources for Massachusetts residents whose work has been affected by COVID-19.
The Courts Are Closed (Mostly).
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has issued a series of orders affecting court operations throughout March and April 2020. The most recent such order was issued on April 27, 2020, and was updated on May 4, 2020. Pursuant to these orders:
All jury trials have been postponed until at least July 1, 2020. Bench trials have likewise been postponed until at least June 1, 2020.
Many hearings have been cancelled or postponed, though certain emergency matters may still be conducted in person. The trial courts have been directed to identify non-emergency case matters that may heard telephonically or through videoconference, and to make arrangements for such hearings.
For in-person emergency matters, the only people allowed to enter a courthouse are the attorneys, the parties, their witnesses, other necessary persons as determined by the presiding judge, and up to three members of the press.
All statutes of limitations, standing orders, and court rules are tolled from March 16, 2020, to May 31, 2020.
You can access the Supreme Judicial Court’s and the Superior Court’s standing orders and notices concerning the coronavirus here.
If You’ve Been Laid Off, You Can File For Unemployment
If you have been terminated, laid off, or placed on an unpaid furlough as a result of the coronavirus, you may be eligible to receive unemployment compensation by applying to the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). The online application for unemployment compensation is available here. The DUA’s guide for submitting an unemployment application is available here. Applications can be submitted seven days a week but only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Normally there is a one-week waiting period between losing your job and applying for unemployment. However, on March 18, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker suspended that waiting period, which means you can apply immediately for unemployment if you just lost your job.
Not everyone is eligible for unemployment. Eligibility is based on a few factors, including duration of your employment and the amount of money you have earned. You can use this benefits calculator to help determine if you’re eligible for unemployment compensation.
Note that eligibility for unemployment will be affected by the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or “CARES Act,” which the federal government enacted on March 27, 2020. Among many other things, the CARES Act provides unemployment compensation to individuals who are not normally eligible to receive unemployment under Massachusetts law, such as independent contractors, individuals who have exhausted their normal run of unemployment benefits, and individuals who do not have sufficient earnings over the past year to qualify for unemployment.
You May Be Owed Paid Sick Time
Under Massachusetts law, most employers are required to provide their full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees with 40 hours of earned paid sick time each calendar year. Sick time must be accrued at a rate of at least one hour per 30 hours worked. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has issued extensive guidance on this requirement, which is available here. If you believe your employer is not providing you with earned paid sick time, you can call the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division at 617-727-3465 or file an online wage complaint here.
You Can File a Health or Safety Complaint
To date, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not issued any coronavirus-specific regulations or orders, but has issued guidance for how its already-existing directives apply with regards to coronavirus in the workplace. That guidance is available here. If you believe your employer is not complying with OSHA’s workplace safety requirements with respect to the coronavirus, you can file a complaint online, by telephone, or by fax or email. Instructions on how to do so are available here.
Additional Legal Resources
There are several legal aid organizations in Massachusetts that are working to assist individuals impacted by the coronavirus. If you feel you need guidance concerning a unique coronavirus-related employment matter, you can try contacting the following organizations:
Fair Employment Project is a non-profit organization for attorneys, law students, and worker advocates who provide workers of limited means with information about their rights, legal options, and the legal process.
Lawyers for Civil Rights is a non-profit organization that focuses on fighting discrimination on behalf of people of color and immigrants through legal action, education, and advocacy.
Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) provides free legal assistance and representation on civil (noncriminal) matters to low-income and and vulnerable residents in Boston and 31 surrounding cities and towns.