The Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (MA PFML) regulations are final, and eligible workers may start applying for benefits on January 1, 2021. Are you ready? Let us provide the details you need to know.
MA PFML Basics
As we’ve written on this blog in the past (e.g., here, here, and here), the MA PFML program will offer temporary wage replacement and job-protected leave for most employees in Massachusetts. The basic tenets of the MA PFML law include:
- Expansive coverage for almost all Massachusetts workers
- Employees are eligible for MA PFML if they meet a financial eligibility test (i.e., total wages over the previous 12 months of at least 30 times the weekly benefit amount (which, at current benefit amounts, totals $5,100 earned in the past 12 months); there are no hours worked or length of service eligibility requirements
- Self-employed individuals may opt-in and elect coverage by paying contributions to the state program
- Former employees may receive MA PFML benefits if they start their MA PFML within 26 weeks of their separation of employment and they met the financial eligibility test at the time of their separation
- 26 weeks of combined family and medical leave per benefit year
- Up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave for an employee’s own serious health condition
- Up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for:
- Care of a family member with a serious health condition
- Bonding with a child within the first 12 months after birth, adoption, or foster care placement or
- Qualifying military exigency because a family member is on or has been called to active duty in the armed forces
- Up to 26 weeks to care for a family member who is a covered service member
- Intermittent and reduced schedule leave is allowed for all leave reasons, except bonding which requires the employer’s agreement
- Job protection begins on the first date on which an employee begins taking any type of leave that is a qualifying reason for MA PFML, regardless of whether the employee has applied for benefits at that time. If an employee uses any other type of leave, including accrued paid or unpaid leave approved by his/her employer for a qualifying reason, the leave will run concurrently with the MA PFML leave period and is job protected
- Benefits range from 50-80% of the employee’s average weekly wage, with a cap of $850 per week
- The portion of an individual’s average weekly wage that is equal to or less than 50% of the state average weekly wage shall be paid at a rate of 80%
- The portion of an individual’s average weekly wage that is more than 50% of the state average weekly wage shall be replaced at a rate of 50%
- Seven-calendar-day waiting period, which is unpaid but job protected, and counts toward the total available period of leave in a benefit year
- Family members for whom an employee may take MA PFML to provide care are:
- Spouse or domestic partner
- Parents, parents-in law, and in loco parentis relationship
Check out the MA PFML website if you need additional information about the program.
State vs. Private Plans – Exemption Renewals May Be Due Soon
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts will administer the MA PFML program, but insured and self-insured private plans are also permitted, with state approval. A private plan may cover medical leave, family leave, or both, and must confer all the same or better benefits as those provided by the state program. After the state approves a private plan, it becomes effective at the beginning of the quarter immediately following the date of approval.
Note, however, that an employer must contribute to the state program until its private plan goes into effect. If a self-insured plan is not in force on January 1, 2021 when benefits begin, the employer will be responsible for PFML contributions retroactive to October 1, 2019. In addition, if an employer allows their exemption for their private plan to expire without renewal, the employer must begin making contributions to the state fund.
What is the benefit of using a private plan (insured or self-insured) rather than the state program? Good question! Employers with an approved private plan do not make contributions to the state PFML fund and need not file quarterly wage and contribution reports. In MA PFML terminology, the employer is exempt from contributions and filing requirements. In addition, employers may be able to better coordinate their company-provided leaves. For example, an employer may be able to use a uniform, nationwide disability and/or family leave policy to meet the MA PFML private plan exemption, thereby limiting benefit differences based on where the employee works. Finally, third-party administrators, such as ReedGroup, are able to administer self-funded private plans to offer full integration of an employer’s leave benefits, making absence management easier and more consistent for both your employees and your HR team.
For employers who have an approved self-insured private plan that exempted them for the period beginning October 1, 2019 and ending September 30, 2020, you will need to renew your exemption on or before September 30th. The renewal application period opens on August 30, 2020 so employers have just one month to complete the renewal process for self-insured plans.
For employers with an existing exemption through an insured plan (i.e., through an insurance carrier), the private plan exemption has been extended until December 31, 2020. Renewal applications for insured plans will be accepted November 30th through December 31, 2020.
Clarifications in the MA PFML Final Regulations
On July 24, 2020, the latest version of the MA PFML regulations became final. They included some helpful clarifications, including the following:
- There is no longer a requirement that the SSN number or individual taxpayer identification number of a family member be provided when applying for benefits to care for that family member. The regulations now state that the employee need only provide information that is satisfactory to the state to identify that family member.
- The definition of “Active duty” for purposes of qualifying exigency leave now includes deployment to a foreign country. The full definition is “full-time duty in the active military service of the United States and full-time National Guard duty, and deployed to a foreign country.”
- New definition for “Average working week” – now defined as the average number of hours worked from the two highest quarters of the 12 months preceding the individual’s application for MA PFML benefits.
- Clarification on Average weekly wage (AWW) to specify that if an individual has multiple employers, the AWW will be calculated for each employer separately.
- “Base period” is now defined as the last four completed calendar quarters within the previous five calendar quarters immediately preceding the date an application for benefits is filed with the Department. (Base period is used for determining eligibility under the defined financial eligibility test.)
- Treatment by a health care provider now includes a telehealth visit (for purposes of determining whether the person has a serious health condition).
- Adds “Extended Illness Leave Bank” which is a voluntary program where covered individuals may donate accrued leave time to fund a bank for the benefit of a co-worker experiencing a qualifying reason under MA PFML.
- Financial eligibility test – the final regulations clarify that wages received from multiple employers within the base period can be counted to determine financial eligibility for leave.
- Intermittent leave increments may be taken in increments that are consistent with an established policy of the employer for other types of leave; the Department, however, will not pay for increments of less than 15 minutes and an individual may not apply for state benefits until intermittent leave has accumulated to 8 hours or more (unless more than 30 calendar days have lapsed since the initial taking of such leave).
- Leave for Substance Use Disorder – new section in the regulations to cover substance use disorders as a serious health condition for which PML or PFL may be taken for treatment purposes only. Absences due to the use of the substance, rather than treatment, does not qualify for leave.
- Employees who work for multiple employers are not required to take PFML from each employer during a single period of leave. Wages from another employer (or through self-employment) are not deducted from the MA PFML benefit.
- Substitution of Employer-provided paid leave: Employees who use accrued paid leave or leave through an extended illness leave bank program provided by their employer shall NOT receive any MA PFML benefits for that period of time. The MA PFML entitlement/leave allotment, however, runs concurrently with the use of accrued paid employer-provided leaves for qualifying reasons and employers must inform employees of that concurrency.
The final regulations are available here.
What Is ReedGroup Doing
We are ready for MA PFML! ReedGroup has been preparing for this new law and will offer numerous solutions. As we do in other states that permit private plans, ReedGroup will support full administration of approved self-insured MA PFML private plans. In addition, ReedGroup is pleased to offer a MA PFML tracking plan for clients who opt for that service. The tracking plan will follow the state-administered program, allowing clients to track leaves for MA employees in one place. Finally, our base offering will include informing employees on how to apply for MA PFML state benefits as well as taking offsets for concurrent company paid leave plans.
If you’re an employer with over 5000 employees, we can help with MA PFML. Let us know.
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.