Paid Leave in New England Shifts Toward a New Standard

December 17, 2020

 

paid family leave

California passed a state paid family and medical leave law in 2002 and became the first state to implement a state paid leave program in 2004. Since that time, ten U.S. states and the District of Columbia now have paid leave programs in place. Paid leave in New England is shifting toward the new standard, with the implementation of state programs in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island. CARES Act paid family and medical leave mandates for employees affected by coronavirus have undoubtedly placed the issue back at the forefront for states still on the fence about implementing their own program. With the changing tide across the Northeast, we’re taking a look at what employers need to know about paid leave laws across New England states. 

Massachusetts

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts established the MA PFML program in 2018 under Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Law (PFMLL). Employees will become eligible for certain paid time off starting on January 1, 2021. In an effort to help employers prepare, we have outlined program coverage, eligibility, legal obligations, and steps you can take ahead of January 1st in our recent article, MA PFMLL: Are You Ready?

Connecticut

The State of Connecticut passed the CT PFMLA in 2019, which introduced employers in the state to the Connecticut Paid Leave (CTPL) insurance program. The program will be funded by employees by way of a mandatory payroll deduction. While paid leave accrued under the act won’t be available to employees until January of 2022, state registration opened to employers on November 1st of this year, and payroll deductions must start on January 1, 2021. In an effort to help employers prepare, we have outlined program coverage, eligibility, and legal obligations in our recent article, What Connecticut Employers Need to Know About CT PFMLA.

Maine

The State of Maine’s program is a little different than those in other states. The actual family and medical leave law provides options for unpaid leave; however, Maine passed a ground-breaking earned paid leave law in 2019. Maine’s Earned Paid Leave Law officially goes into effect January 1, 2021. Leave accrued under this law can be used for virtually any reason, including those related to personal and family emergencies and illnesses. We provided program details in our recent article, Maine’s Earned Paid Leave Law is Effective January 1, 2021: Are You Ready?

Rhode Island

Paid leave laws in Rhode Island are a bit more established, as we are a few years out from the transition. The Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act has been in effect since July 1, 2018. Under this law, Rhode Island employers with 18 or more employees must allow employees to accrue at least one hour of paid sick and safe leave, at their usual rate of pay and benefits (and no less than state minimum wage), for every 35 hours worked, up to 40 hours for the year. Employers of 17 or fewer employees must still provide the same amount of leave; however, there is not a requirement for the leave to be paid. With the exception of federal, municipal, and state employees, and certain per diem nursing employees, all employees are eligible and begin accruing immediately upon hire.  

Employees are permitted to use leave for:

  • themselves or to care for a family member (including children, grandchildren, grandparents, parents, parents-in-law, siblings, spouses, someone they arrange health or safety-related care for, or other members of their households) for illness, injury, or medical condition, as well as related diagnosis and preventive care needs;
  • mandated public emergency closures of the employee’s place of business;
  • mandated public emergency child care facility closures affecting child care arrangements;
  • healthcare provider-determined personal or family member quarantine due to exposure to a communicable disease; or 
  • related to their own or a family member’s need due to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking issues.

Rhode Island employers must post the Notice to All Employees. Employers have a number of options in terms of leave dispersal and tracking. You are permitted to require a waiting period (no more than 90 days) for use of sick leave. When employees have unused sick leave accrued at year end, it may either be paid out or carried over. You may cap total accrual at 40 hours.You can choose to provide leave as it accrues, in monthly lump sums based on an average work week, or in an annual lump sum based on expected accrual for the year.

In 2013, the Rhode Island Paid Family Leave Act established a temporary caregiver insurance (TCI) program, which is funded by employee payroll deductions and provides partial wage replacement for up to four weeks during a 12-month period for eligible employees to care for a seriously ill family member, which includes a parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparent, child, spouse, or domestic partner, or to bond with a newborn child, new adopted child, or new foster-care child.

Rhode Island also has a long-standing program in place for temporary disability insurance (TDI), which is funded by employee payroll deductions. Through TDI, eligible employees who have a temporary disability, including pregnancy, can receive partial wage replacement for up to 30 weeks. 

Vermont, New Hampshire & Beyond

In Vermont, paid family and medical leave programs were presented in 2018 and 2020; however, neither bill made it, as both were vetoed by Governor Phil Scott. Governor Scott is pushing for a voluntary plan, which was first presented last year. 

“For years, Vermonters have made it clear they don’t want, nor can they afford, new broad-based taxes,” said Governor Scott. “We cannot continue to make the state less affordable for working Vermonters and more difficult for employers to employ them – even for well-intentioned programs like this one. Vermonters can’t afford for us to get this wrong, especially at their expense.” 

Currently, the State of New Hampshire does not have a paid family and medical leave program either. Governor Chris Sununu also vetoed similar bills and has proposed a voluntary program. 

In addition to the states already mentioned, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Oregon have also implemented, or have passed laws to implement, a state paid leave program.

Preparing for New Requirements and a New Year

Now is the time for employers to ensure employee handbooks, policies, and procedures have been updated appropriately and that legal, notification, and filing requirements are being met. Training for your HR personnel is also key. They need a comprehensive understanding of state regulations and compliance measures, as well as how these regulations interact with existing federal and state laws to avoid penalties for noncompliance. Employers should consider obtaining experienced employment counsel.

Commonwealth Payroll & HR provides efficient, fully-customizable payroll, HR, time & attendance, and benefit administration services tailored to clients’ unique needs. Contact us today to discuss your transition and compliance plans surrounding state paid leave laws.

 

*The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information is for general informational purposes only. Information in this article may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. This article contains links to other third-party websites provided only for the convenience of the reader.

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