United States: Massachusetts Employers: Are You Ready For Paid Family and Medical Leave?

When Massachusetts passed its Paid Family and Medical Leave Law (PFML) in 2018, it left Massachusetts employers with a short window—until July 1, 2019—to make most preparations for compliance with the PFML's notice requirements and complex wage reporting and withholding provisions. It also left employers with little time to assess whether they should apply for an exemption from the withholding requirements based on their own employee benefits offerings. Recognizing employers' need for additional time to prepare for the PFML, the Massachusetts Department of Family Medical Leave recently extended certain important deadlines and announced new public hearings as it finalizes the new PFML regulations.

Public Hearings and Extension of Deadlines

  • Employers now have until June 30, 2019, extended from the prior deadline of May 31, 2019, to give written notice to workers concerning their rights under the new law. The notice may be provided electronically, but must include an opportunity for workers to acknowledge receipt. A sample notice is available on the department's website.
  • Employers now have until September 20, 2019, extended from the prior deadline of June 30, 2019, to apply for an exemption from the withholding requirements if they offer a private plan that is at least as generous as the PFML's paid leave requirements. Employers must use the MassTaxConnect website to submit exemption applications.
  • The department will hold two public hearings on the implementation of the PFML. The public hearings will be held:
    • Thursday, May 23, 2019, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center, 206 Maple St., Holyoke, Massachusetts.
    • Friday, May 24, 2019, 1 p.m. - 3 p.m., Hurley Building – Minihan Hall, 19 Staniford St., 6th floor, Boston, Massachusetts.

While the extended deadlines give employers some much-needed breathing room, employers who have not yet developed a plan for PFML compliance should do so as soon as possible to avoid last-minute and potentially costly mistakes with withholding and notice requirements.

Background and Details of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Law  

In June 2018, Massachusetts passed M.G.L. c. 175M, a law that provides paid family and medical leave benefits to workers, including eligible employees, independent contractors and self-employed individuals. While public paid family and medical leave benefits will not become available until 2021, employers must begin making contributions to a PFML trust fund beginning on July 1, 2019. Key provisions of the new PFML law include:

  • Leave Allotments. Beginning in 2021, workers are eligible for paid family and medical leave, which runs concurrently with other types of leave under state and federal law and may be used as follows:
    • Family Leave: Up to 12 weeks in a benefit year for: the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child; the care of a family member with a serious health condition; or due to a qualifying exigency for a family member's active military duty. Up to 26 weeks in a benefit year to care for a family member who is a covered service member.
    • Medical Leave: Up to 20 weeks in a benefit year for a serious health condition that incapacitates the covered individual from work.
  • Covered Businesses. The law applies to all "employers" who have employees in Massachusetts, as well as "covered business entities," which are businesses that use 1099 contractors for more than 50 percent of their workforce.
  • Notice. Employers must post the required workplace poster and, separately, give workers written notice of their rights and collect signed acknowledgements of receipt (please see link to sample notice above).
  • Withholdings and Contributions. Beginning on July 1, 2019, employers must contribute 0.63 percent of qualified earnings each quarter to the PFML trust fund, which the department will allocate between family and medical leave each year. Employers may withhold up to 40 percent of the medical leave portion and up to 100 percent of the family leave portion from workers' qualified earnings. Employers must remit their first quarterly contribution by October 31, 2019.
  • Quarterly Filings. Employers must register with the MassTaxConnect system to file quarterly employment and wage detail reports. These reports will determine the employer's contribution amount.
  • Job Protection. Employers must restore workers who take covered leave to their previous or an equivalent position and may not discriminate or retaliate against workers who exercise their rights under the law. Workers can bring a claim for violations and may recover up to three times their lost wages.
  • Exemptions. Employers can apply for an exemption from making contributions by offering paid benefits through a private plan. To qualify for an exemption, the plan must confer the same or better benefits as those provided by the new law, including the same or better job protection benefits, and the benefits must not cost workers more than the state plan. The department is accepting applications on a rolling basis, and exemptions, once granted, are effective for one year.

What This Means for Employers

In the near term, there are two key steps that covered employers should be taking. First, employers should ensure that they provide the required written notice to all workers before the June 30, 2019, deadline. Second, employers should review their current leave benefits offerings and written policies to determine if they qualify and wish to apply for an exemption to the contribution requirements prior to the September 20, 2019.

In addition, the department has published—but not yet finalized—draft regulations interpreting and implementing the PFML. Employers may wish to consider attending and providing public comment at the hearings scheduled for May 23 and 24, and we will provide a further update once the draft regulations have been finalized.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Christopher D. Durham, Lauren A. Appel, any of the attorneys in our Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.

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