Beginning January 1, 2021, Massachusetts is offering new benefits to employees in the Commonwealth who need to take a leave of absence for medical or family reasons. Funded through a Massachusetts tax since October 2019, the Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program enables eligible employees to take up to 26 weeks of paid leave for specific qualifying circumstances.

The program is administered by the Department of Family and Medical Leave. PFML benefits apply to most employees and employers in the Commonwealth, with the exception of workers who are exempt from state unemployment insurance. The benefits are funded by a state tax of no greater than 0.75 percent of eligible wages, paid by the employee and (if not self-employed) by the employer.

Please note that this is a state program, separate from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Who Is Eligible for PFML Benefits?

Covered employees who work in Massachusetts include:

  • W-2 workers, whether full-time, part-time, or seasonal;
  • Self-employed individuals (if they opt into the program);
  • 1099-MISC workers who do not qualify as independent contractors and who collectively make up more than 50 percent of their employer’s workforce.

Employees must apply to the Department of Family and Medical Leave for PFML benefits. According to Harpers Payroll Services, to be eligible for benefits, an employee must have:

  • Earned at least $5,100 during the last four completed calendar quarters, from any combination of Massachusetts employers;
  • Earned at least 30 times more than the amount the employee would be eligible to collect each week from PFML; and
  • Paid the full 0.75 percent contribution rate for both family and medical leave for at least two of their last four completed calendar quarters.

While employers are required to remit PFML premiums, they are not responsible for determining employee eligibility or paying out benefits directly to employees. However, employers should understand eligibility requirements when explaining job-protection benefits to their employees. PFML information for Massachusetts employers can be found here.

How Can PFML Benefits Be Used?

Employees may take paid medical leave to manage their own serious injury or illness. There are five reasons that employees can take paid family leave:

  1. Care for a family member with a serious health condition (starting July 1, 2021);
  2. Bond with a newborn child during the first 12 months after birth;
  3. Bond with a child during the first 12 months after adoption or foster care placement;
  4. Care for a family member who was or is a member of the Armed Forces, National Guard, or Reserves, and who developed or aggravated a serious health condition in the line of duty on active duty while deployed to a foreign country.
  5. Manage family affairs when a family member is on active duty in the armed forces, including the National Guard or Reserves.

How Do PFML Benefits Work?

The Commonwealth determines the amount of benefits for each eligible employee based on past earnings and the current state average weekly wage. Here’s where the calculations get a bit complicated. According to Harpers Payroll Services, “The benefit amount will be equal to 80% of an employee’s weekly wage that is 50% or less of the state average weekly wage (SAWW), plus 50% of their weekly wages above 50% of the SAWW (if any).”

A simpler solution: Employees can estimate PFML benefits using the Paid Family and Medical Leave Calculator.

PFML can run concurrently with other state and federal family and medical leave provisions, including the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers beware: Under PFML, employers must continue any employee health insurance benefits, as if the employee were continuing to work during the period of the leave.

For more information, please consult the Department of Family and Medical Leave website.