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Massachusetts is one of six states to have enacted a paid family and medical leave law. Originally, the state’s PFML law was passed as part of the “Grand Bargain” legislation, which also included changes to the state minimum wage and hours worked. Employers need to be prepared as most paid family and medical leave benefits under the new law become available Jan. 1.

Are your employee handbooks updated? Do your employees know their rights under the law?  The Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law provides up to 26 weeks of paid leave in a benefit year for family and medical issues for eligible employees who work in Massachusetts. The benefits are administered and paid for by the state.

PFML benefits coming online in January are:

  • Paid medical leave for an employee’s own serious illness, up to 20 weeks.
  • Paid family leave to handle family affairs while a family member is on active duty overseas, up to 12 weeks.
  • Paid family leave to care for a covered military service member, up to 26 weeks.
  • Paid family leave to bond with a newborn, adopted child or a child newly placed in foster care, up to 12 weeks.

Businesses need to be aware that benefits are transferable between employers, so wages are cumulative for all employment.

Employees will be able to apply for the benefits when they become available in January.

Effective July 1, employees may apply for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member who has a serious illness.

State, federal laws

The Massachusetts PFML differs from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The PFML applies to all employers, while the FMLA applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. The federal program allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave – 26 weeks to care for a service member – and has a 12-month waiting period to become eligible. The Massachusetts program has no waiting period and the leave is paid. The FMLA has no earnings requirement, but the PFML requires the employee to have earned at least $5,100 in the past 12 months. While there are no contributions to the FMLA, the PFML requires employers to collect payroll deductions.

Under the PFML, employers are mandated to set up a MassTaxConnect account; file quarterly employment reports; post workplace posters and provide written notification about the law to employees; make payroll deductions; and make quarterly contributions to the Family and Employment Security Trust Fund.

The contribution for the combined medical and family leave is 0.75 percent of eligible wages or earnings, which comprises 0.13 percent for family leave and 0.62 percent for medical leave. Employers can make payroll deductions up to 100 percent for the family leave contribution and 40 percent for medical leave.

Businesses with fewer than 25 employees must comply with the law, but the employers can require individuals to pay the full 0.13 percent contribution for family leave and 100 percent of the 0.248 percent contribution for medical leave.

Excluded businesses

Employers or earnings that are excluded from the PFML law include:

  • Churches and some religious organizations.
  • Railroad industry.
  • Jail and prison inmates.
  • Work performed for a son, daughter or spouse; or a father or mother, if the person is under 18.

Municipalities, districts, political subdivisions, housing authorities, regional school districts, and regional planning commissions also are excluded unless they choose to opt in to the law by a vote of their legislative or governing body.

Covered individuals include full-time, part-time and seasonal W-2 workers, self-employed individuals, 1099 workers who make up more than 50 percent of their employer’s workforce and independent contractors who chose coverage and paid contributions in two of the last four calendar quarters. Former employees who have been unemployed for less than 26 weeks and meet the earnings criteria also are eligible.

To request leave, employees must notify their employer 30 days before the start date, if possible. The individual also must file an application for benefits with the Department of Family and Medical Leave not more than 60 days before the start date.

Retaliation prohibited

Employees who take leave under the PFML must be allowed to return to their previous position or an equivalent job, unless workers in similar positions have been laid off or the project or term they were hired for is completed. The law prohibits retaliation against individuals who are on family or medical leave.

Employers are permitted to have a policy requiring employees on leave for their own illness to obtain certification from their health care providers stating they are able to return to work.

Businesses may seek an exemption from the law if they offer a similar private plan to their workers. If granted, the businesses will have to notify the state 30 days before any changes to the plan and the state may audit the plan or require reporting.

Disability insurance isn’t mandatory, but some companies offer it to ensure their benefits package is competitive with other businesses. Through the PFML, Massachusetts has made sure all employees have this coverage.

Potential impact on staffing levels

Employees who were treated for a serious illness this year will have another 20 weeks of leave available next year. One of my clients has an employee who is on maternity leave. In January, she will be eligible for an additional 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of her child, a bank of time she wouldn’t have had without the PFML. Employers will need enough staff to fill in for those on leave.

Some employers are concerned about how the paid leave will be tracked to prevent people from taking advantage of the law.

Employers must be certain they have the resources to administer the new law and make sure the staff member overseeing compliance with the law either fully understands it or finds out how to manage it.

If you would like more details on the payment of benefits or other parts of this new law, contact me at melody@melodybeachconsulting.com or reach out to another HR consultant. The link to the Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave is https://bit.ly/3qjbbFl.

Connect with us

Connect with Darlene Corbett and me during our weekly radio program, “Connections Count,” at 1 p.m. Mondays on Unity Radio 97.9 FM.  If you miss the show on the radio, you can find it on Unity Radio’s website at https://www.wuty979fm.org/monday. We are always interested in hearing from anyone who would like to be a guest on our program. Email us at  connectionscount1@gmail.com.

Last 50+ Job Seekers Networking meeting of 2020

The last 50+ Job Seekers Networking workshop of the year will be Dec. 15. The topic of the Zoom meeting is “Practice Interviewing with Employers” and it will include a panel of guests. The meeting will run from 10 a.m. to noon.

The registration page for first-time participants is at https://mcoaonline.com/employment/50-plus-job-seeker-networking-groups/.

Contact me at melody@melodybeachconsulting.com with any questions about Human Resources issues.

 

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