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BOSTON -- Massachusetts employers must allow time off for employees to attend doctor's appointments for their children or elderly relatives and for parent-teacher conferences, a newly adopted statute mandates.

The statute, dubbed the Small Necessities Leave Act, took effect in August and affects employers with more than 50 employees. Employees may take a total of 24 hours of unpaid leave per 12-month time frame to handle such personal responsibilities. They may take the time in hourly increments.

A spokeswoman for Massachusetts Sen. Thomas Birmingham, D-Chelsea, who sponsored the bill, said the senator was motivated by the many stories that he heard where an employee was forced to choose between job and family.

The mandate, which is enforced by the Business and Labor Protection Bureau of the office of the attorney general, can bring up to a $500 fine on an employer that does not allow time off when an employee files in accordance with the mandate, or if an employer discriminates against or demotes an employee because of the leave.

"We've received a lot of questions and inquiries but no formal complaints to my knowledge," said Anthony Penski, assistant attorney general and deputy bureau chief for the Business and Labor Protection Bureau.

Mr. Penski's office has drafted an advisory to assist employers in compliance. Many of the calls from employers, he said, involve what types of information they can ask employees to produce as proof that the time off met the criteria of the Small Necessities Leave Act.

"It's a bit heavy-handed and so bureaucratic," said John F. Welsh, a partner and attorney in the labor and employment group for the Boston-based law firm of Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault. For multistate corporations, he said, it's almost impossible to have uniform company policies without catering to the "quirks" of each state. He also noted that it makes it more difficult to remove chronically absent employees.

Mr. Welsh said the mandate sends a pro-worker, pro-family message, and for politicians, "it's a nice little sound bite for a speech."