Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave Law: An Overview

Every Massachusetts employer no matter how few employees they have, must comply with the new law permitting employees to take extensive paid leave for maternity and paternity purposes or for a serious medical illness.  Starting in January of 2021 employees can take up to 26 weeks of paid leave.  However, all employers must immediately begin withholdings for these benefits starting on October 1, 2019. 

The sweeping Paid Family and Medical Leave (“PFML”) law, will allow eligible employees, (and even some non-employees and former employees) to take annual paid leave for the following reasons:

  • up to 20 weeks for a covered individual’s own serious health condition;
  • family leave to bond with a child or care for a family member of up to 12 weeks;
  • a combined medical and/or family leave of up to 26 weeks

Effective date of withholdings to begin = October 1, 2019

Effective date of benefits = January 1, 2021, and July 1, 2021

To support the costs of the paid leave, employers are required to make financial contributions starting as of October 1, 2019, and similar to unemployment monies, must pay those funds into a new state agency, the Family and Medical Leave Department.

 

PFML Benefits Effective Dates and Timeline

Withholdings required to be made by any employer will support a phase-in of benefits of paid leave available as follows:

Available January 1, 2021

  • for a covered individual’s own medical condition;
  • for care for a child in the first 12 months since birth, or the first 12 months following adoption of the child or placement of the child with you in foster care;
  • for emergencies associated with a family member’s military service; and
  • for an illness or injury suffered in the line of duty by a family employer by a covered service.

Available July 1, 2021

  • for the medical condition of a family member.

September 30, 2019 – Employers must notify in writing all covered individuals of the PFML withholdings and determine the amount of withholdings and contributions.

October 1, 2019 – Payroll deductions begin for Quarter 1 of 2019.

January 1, 2020 – Remit PFML contributions for October – December 2019.

 

Are All Employers Required to Comply with PMFL?

Yes.  If you are a Massachusetts employer with more than one covered individual (which includes counting both W2 and 1099 workers), you are required to comply with PFML law.  If you have less than 25 covered individuals then no contributions are required of the employer, but you must withhold contributions on behalf of the covered individuals.  If you employ more than 25 workers then you will be required to make employer-based contributions.  If you are self-employed, you can elect to opt into the program.

Are Any Employers Exempt?  Does your Private Plan Provide for all PFML Benefits?

Massachusetts employers who already offer their employees family and medical leave benefits may be able to seek an exemption from contributing under the new PFML law.  In order to qualify for such an exemption, the employer’s current benefit offerings must be equal to, or greater than those provided by the PFML law.

What is the Contribution Requirement of the Employer?

For each covered individual, the total contribution rate is 0.63% of the gross wages or other payments made to that covered individual.  Contributions are applied to the two types of leave: 0.52% is allocated to medical leave and 0.11% to family leave.

If an employer averages 25 or more covered individuals, the employer will also be required to cover 60% of the medical leave contribution but is not required to cover any portion of the family leave contribution. 

What Employees are entitled to Benefits? 

If you are an employee of a Massachusetts employer, or a state or federal government agency in Massachusetts, you are automatically covered.  Independent contractors who work with an employer and receive 1099 forms are covered so long as independent contractors comprise more than 50% of that employer’s workforce.

Additionally, individuals who have been unemployed for not more than 26 weeks, or who have obtained 15 weeks or more of earnings as an employee or were a covered individual in the year before they applied for benefits, are also covered by PFML.

Employees of a city, town, or local government will only be granted coverage if their employer chooses to opt into the program.

The PFML provides for leave broader than currently permitted under the FMLA and regulations have not yet been finalized implementing the law.  Employers need to immediately assess current policies and determine what contribution rates they will implement or opt out of the law.

This Labor & Employment Legal Update is intended to keep readers current on matters affecting employment law and is not intended to be legal advice.  If you have any questions, please contact Walter Foster at 617.342.6853 or wfoster@eckertseamans.com.

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Authors

Walter M. Foster

Member - Boston

Charlotte L. Bednar

Member - Boston

Trevin C. Schmidt

Associate - Boston