As 2020 closes with hope that the coronavirus will soon become a thing of the past, employers need to begin implementing Massachusetts’ new Paid Family and Medical Leave law (PFML). Beginning January 1, 2021, employees in the Commonwealth will begin to be eligible for up to 26 weeks of paid leave each year for qualified medical conditions or to deal with certain family situations. Full implementation of all available benefits occurs on July 1, 2021.
The PFML program began with payroll tax collections in October 2019, as all employers should already know. The law through which it was formed provides for up to 20 weeks of paid leave for employees’ and, in some cases, independent contractors’ serious medical conditions; 12 weeks to care for family members’ health conditions; and up to 26 weeks of leave if a family member’s qualified needs are related to military service. While employers will not foot the cost of leave directly – expenses are covered by the payroll tax, with employees eligible to collect up to $850 weekly upon approval – they will need to deal with holes that may be created in workforces by employee absences. The law generally requires employers to hold jobs open and bars them from discriminating against workers who apply for benefits. Whether and to what extent PFML benefits will be available to employees with Covid-19-related ailments remains an open question, though it certainly seems that such illnesses will be considered “serious” in many cases. Notably, a federal law now set to expire December 31, 2020 requires payment for Covid-19 absences by employers of fewer than 500 workers, and it seems likely that the new Massachusetts paid leave law will pick up where the federal statute leaves off.
Employers who have not yet notified their employees of the new law’s provisions need to do so promptly. The Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) has created a form for doing so, and written or electronic confirmation of receipt by employees is required. The form is available on the DFML’s web page. Employers also need to register a staff member with the Department to receive information and review or manage applications for benefits. This too can be done on the DFML web page.