Last year, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFML) into law. This new law significantly changes the landscape for employers in Massachusetts.

Summary of the New Law

The PFML gives certain eligible employees access to paid leave benefits, beginning in 2021.  They can start claiming PFML benefits for bonding with a child or newborn or to deal with a personal serious health condition on January 1, 2021, and can start claiming PFML benefits for caring for a family member with a serious health condition on July 1, 2021.  A family member is a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, parent of a spouse or domestic partner, grandchild, grandparent, or sibling.

The fund that will pay for this benefit will be filled through contributions from both employers and employees.  Although employees cannot take advantage of the paid leave until 2021, employers must take certain steps this year and next to prepare.

The law requires employers with 25 or more employees to make contributions from both the employee and the employer toward these leave benefits. Employers with fewer than 25 covered individuals must submit contributions on behalf of their workers, but they are not required to pay the employer share.  Like the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the PFML allows employees to take leave when dealing with their own or a family member’s serious medical condition, or after the birth or adoption of a child, although Massachusetts’s law is somewhat broader (for example, employees are eligible for benefits regardless of their length of service or hours worked). Paid medical leave is capped at 20 weeks per benefit year, and paid family leave is capped at 12 weeks per year. The combined amount of family and medical leave that an individual may take in a benefit year is capped at 26 weeks and will run concurrently with the FMLA.  The maximum benefit is $850 per week.  A newly-created administrative agency, the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML), will administer the PFML.

Key Dates

  • September 30, 2019: Employers must provide written notice to workforce about their rights and obligations under the PFML
  • October 1, 2019: Employers begin deducting contributions
  • December 20, 2019: Approved plan applications due for first quarter of contributions
  • January 1, 2020: Contributions due for October through December 2019
  • January 1, 2021: Most benefits available
  • July 1, 2021: All benefits available

Notice Requirements

Starting on September 30, 2019, “[e]ach employer and covered business entity” must begin providing notice to their workforces regarding the PFML’s benefits. Employers must display a poster that they can obtain from the DFML, and must place it in locations where it can be easily read. Employers must display the poster in English, as well as in every other primary language of five or more employees. Employer also must provide notice to employees within 30 days from the first date of employment. Failure to comply with notice requirements may result in monetary penalties.

Deductions

Although employees will not have access to paid leave benefits until 2021, on October 1, 2019, employers must begin deducting contributions from wages and payments made to covered individuals. Employers must also remit contributions collected from October through December 2019 to the Family and Employment Security Trust Fund by January 1, 2020. The DFML has created a calculator, available on their website, to help employers estimate the amount of contributions they will need to submit to the fund.

Exemptions for Existing Paid Leave Plans

If an employer already provides paid leave to its employees, they may submit approved-plan applications through MassTaxConnect to determine if they may be exempt from collecting and remitting payments. To qualify for annual exemption, an employer’s private plan must provide the same or better benefits than those available under the new law.

Best Practices for Employers

In addition to making sure that employers meet the deadlines for employee notice, withholdings, and submissions outlined above, they should take the following additional steps.  First, employers with FMLA policies should consider updating those policies to comply with the Massachusetts law, for the ease of administration.  Second, they should evaluate their current paid leave policies, if any, and determine whether their existing policies or participation in the PFML system is more cost-effective.

Conclusion

The Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave law is one of many significant changes in Massachusetts employment law.  In 2018 and 2019, the legislature also passed laws dealing with pregnancy accommodation, equal pay rights, non-compete agreements, and permissible criminal history questions.  Employers should be sure to update their policies and practices to comply with these new laws.