Massachusetts Delays Roll-Out of New Paid Leave Law
No stranger to employee-friendly laws, Massachusetts recently passed an extensive paid time off law that, once it takes effect, will provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks/year of paid family leave and 20 weeks/year of paid medical leave. Paid time off laws are not terribly uncommon, as exemplified by Connecticut, which passed its own similar paid family leave law this month. But Massachusetts’ law is particularly generous and funded in part by both employees and employers. If you are a business with employees in Massachusetts, or are concerned (as you should be) that your state might pass a similar law to the Massachusetts PFML, here’s what you need to know.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
There’s a tax. Beginning October 1, 2019, employees and employers (with more than 25 employees) will begin jointly paying to the State an amount equal to .75% of the employee’s qualified earnings; .62% is earmarked for medical leave pool and .13% for the family leave pool. The difference is important because covered employers are responsible for 60% of the medical leave deduction, while the full family leave deduction is the employee’s responsibility.
Beginning January 1, 2021, eligible employees who miss work for a covered reason will be able to apply for paid leave of absence benefits from the State to reimburse them for their unpaid leave of absence. The maximum weekly payment is currently $850, though it is likely to fluctuate annually.
WHAT DOES THE LAW COVER?
The PFML is broad in its scope, though mostly mirrors the criteria used for granting time off work under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and then pays employees for the time off.
Under the PFML employees can apply for benefits for up to 12 weeks for the following situations:
Care for a family member with a serious health condition
Bond with a child within the first 12 months after its birth
Bond with a child within the first 12 months after adoption or foster care placement
Manage family affairs when a family member is on active duty in the armed forces
Again, similar to FMLA, employees can apply for up to 20 weeks for this situation, however:
When the employee is unable to work due to their own serious health condition total benefits for the year are capped at 26 weeks.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?
First, by September 30, 2019, covered employers need to update their workplace posters with notices required by the law. Second, compare your current benefits against those provided under the PFML. If your benefits meet or exceed those offered under the plan then consider applying for an exemption. Third, on October 1, 2019 payroll deductions need to begin, unless the employer applies for an exemption from the State of Massachusetts (or decides to pay the employee-portion of the payroll tax contribution themselves). Even though benefits will not begin for more than a year, the advance payroll deductions will allow the government to build a fund for the program. Fourth, update your time off policies before the benefits begin on January 1, 2021 to reflect the new entitlements under this program. If your company is exempt it may alter these steps.
WHEN DOES IT START?
Employees are not eligible to receive the benefits until January 1, 2021, and then the only time off paid under the program would be for an employee’s serious medical condition, to take time off work to bond with a new child, or to address the needs of a family member who is a covered service member. The remaining benefits, mainly time off work to address the serious medical condition of a family member, begins July 1, 2021. Before that, however, by September 30, 2019, employers need to post notices to employees regarding their rights under the law as well as details regarding the payroll deduction, which begins October 1.