Paid Family and Medical Leave in Massachusetts Begins, for the most part.

January 13, 2021

Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave began January 1, 2021.

Post your poster! Here is an example from the state:

We’ve all been paying for this benefit already, but now the rubber meets the road to see if we’ve been paying enough and how the system will really work. Briefly, the new law gives employees access to 12 weeks of paid family leave and 20 weeks of paid medical leave (for an employee’s own serious health condition) on an annual basis, with a right to return their same or equivalent job in status, pay and benefits. Collectively, an employee cannot obtain more than 26 weeks during any benefit year.  Workers get 80% of their pay while on authorized leave, less the 7 day waiting period, capped at $850/week. Importantly, the state leave and FMLA leave shall run simultaneously. Benefits can be taken beginning today, although not until July 1 for employees to take leave to care for a family member. Here’s the law:

Two major differences exist between the Massachusetts paid leave law and the federal FMLA: 1) leave under state law is paid while leave under the FMLA is not paid, and 2) the state law applies to all employers while the FMLA applies only to employers with over 50 employees. There are other differences too; for example, for an employee to be eligible for leave benefits under state law, he or she must have earned at least $5,100 (and earned at least 30 times the weekly benefit) and there is no minimum time frame the employee must have worked (although there is a 7 day waiting period), while under the FMLA an employee is not eligible until he or she has worked at least 1,250 hours within the year before requesting leave. Mercifully, the term “serious health condition” under the state leave law has the same definition as under the FMLA.

The size requirement arose under federal law as a compromise on the belief that larger operations could better accommodate the disruption of extended employee leaves. The Massachusetts law, notably, does not include that compromise, although there are some limitations as to which workers are covered as set out in the statute:

This is protected leave, and there is a presumption of retaliation in the event an employee’s status changes within 6 months of a protected act like requesting, or taking or returning from leave. That means an employee must be guaranteed his or her own job back after leave, or at least a job with equivalent status, responsibilities, pay and benefits and that the law presumes unlawful retaliation if there is any change in employment withing 6 months after leave unless the employer can prove with clear and convincing evidence otherwise.

As you know, the paid leave is funded by a small payroll tax born equally by the employee and the employer, but those numbers could change as usage may outstrip available funds. Notably, parents welcoming a new baby can take their leave anytime within 12 months of the new baby’s arrival, which means that any employee who had a baby within the last 6 months can take their paid family leave for that baby any time in the next 6 months. The new law may surprise many employers and failure to comply could have serious consequences.

See the link to the state guide here and consult with your lawyer to make a game plan for how to use this law for the benefit of your employees and your company.