By now, most businesses are aware and have engaged in the preliminary steps toward rolling out the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFML) in Massachusetts. Starting January 1st, 2021, eligible Massachusetts workers will be able to take up to 26 weeks of paid family and medical leave benefits, meant to cover maternity and paternity leave, military exigency leave, and extended sick leave. On July 1st, 2021, covered workers will also be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for the needs around caring for a sick family member.
After an initial delay, MA-based employers and employees were required to contribute to the state’s PFML fund to finance the program as of October 2019. MA-based employers with 25 or more covered workers were required to remit a combined .75% of covered wages and smaller employers .378% of covered wages.
Covered workers include all full and part time W-2 employees in MA, as well as self-employed individuals, and 1099-MISC workers who do not qualify as independent contractors and make up 50% or more of their employer’s workforce. Covered workers cannot opt out of the program. Self-employed workers are not required to contribute but they are eligible to opt in directly through the state program.
Employers can apply for an exemption from collecting, remitting, and paying PFML contributions to the state if they offer an approved, private plan with benefits equal to or greater than those offered by the state program. Such exemptions can be granted by using either a qualified insurance-based program or a self-funded program that requires a posted bond and an affidavit filed with the state (Mass.gov) that will need to be refiled every year.
Insurance-based programs will also charge premiums determined by how they assess the risk of each employer, primarily based upon a group’s demographic factors. Rates range from lower than the state, to matching the .75% state rate, and higher, depending on each insurer and the demographics of the covered population. Claim forms for qualifying leaves are sent directly to the insurance provider, and this opt-out approach from the state program has gathered in popularity, particularly with some larger corporations. One major advantage of placing coverage with an insurance company is that there will be coordination with an employer’s short-term disability plan, and employers will have more input with a carrier vs. the state. The state of Massachusetts has recently extended the exemption filing deadline to December 31st, 2020 to submit renewals for fully insured plans.
In addition, all MA employers must display a workplace poster at their job site that is prepared or approved by the Department of Family and Medical Leave that explains benefits available to workers under the PFML law. A written notice to covered workers is also required, and employees need to acknowledge receipt of such notice. Employers should develop strategies to accomplish this “active” communication, and keep records of employee’s acknowledgement of this coverage.
Overview of Dates and Offered Benefits
- December 20, 2019: Original deadline to file a private plan exemption request for the first quarter of contributions. Applies to employers that have committed to securing benefits equal to or greater than what the PFML law requires.
- January 1, 2021: Covered workers may begin taking, per year:
- Up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave for personal serious health condition
- Up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for birth of child, adoption, or foster care placement
- Up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for qualifying need due to a family member’s active duty in the military
- Up to 26 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member who is a covered servicemember with a serious health condition
- July 1, 2021: Covered workers may begin taking, per year, up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
Total leave for workers under the Massachusetts PFML law is capped at 26 weeks per benefit year. Benefit amounts are based on average weekly earnings with a current maximum weekly benefit of $850.
This represents only a high-level overview of a complex and changing law. For a deeper dive into the program with specifics of how to calculate benefit amounts, who is covered, how to file for exemption, job protections, and where to get office posters and written worker notice templates, go to: www.mass.gov/guides/employers-guide-to-paid-family-and-medical-leave
And as always, you should reach out directly with any questions or needs in helping to navigate and best prepare for next steps.