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Debunking Myths About PFML

May 20, 2019

As we near the effective date for the Paid Family and Medical Leave statute (PFML), Massachusetts employers should be making preparations. It’s the employer’s responsibility to remit quarterly contributions to the fund that pays out family and medical leave benefits. It’s also the employer’s responsibility to educate employees about PFML and provide accurate answers to their questions. Like at the start of any new benefit program, there’s plenty of misinformation swirling around about PFML. Get clear on these common misconceptions before July 1st.

Myth #1: Everyone Who Works in Massachusetts is Covered

PFML provides widespread coverage for Massachusetts workers, but not everyone is eligible. W2 employees who work for companies and state or federal agencies are automatically covered. Employees who work for local government agencies only get PFML coverage if their employers opt into the program. Self-employed workers can choose to opt in. Independent contractors who receive 1099s are covered only if they work for a company with a workforce made up of more than 50% 1099 contractors.

It’s also important to note that even covered individuals must meet eligibility requirements in order to actually receive benefits. To have a PFML application approved, a worker must have earned at least $4,700 in the previous 12 months and have accrued at least 15 weeks of earnings.

Myth #2: Employers Must Pay Contributions for All Covered individuals

This is another area of the law that might cause some confusion. Employers are responsible for remitting PFML contributions for covered individuals, but only some employers have to share the cost of those contributions.

Employers with fewer than 25 employees in Massachusetts don’t have to help fund PFML leave. Employers with 25 or more Massachusetts employees must pay at least 60% of the medical leave portion of each employee’s contribution and aren’t required to pay a share of the family leave portion. These employers may, however, choose to cover a larger portion of their employees’ contributions.

Myth #3: PFML and FMLA are the Same

They sound nearly identical, and both laws give protections to employees with pressing family or medical needs, but FMLA is distinct from PFML. The Family Medical Leave Act is federal law, while PFML only provides benefits on a state level. But the bigger distinction is that FMLA exists to protect the jobs of employees who have to take leave. It prevents employers from firing workers for taking medical or family leave, and allows workers to keep their health benefits while they’re on leave. But it doesn’t provide any paid benefit to those workers like PFML does.

An employee who needs to take leave that meets the criteria for both PFML and FMLA can use both benefits at the same time. An employee whose leave is eligible under PFML but not FMLA may still be able to use FMLA benefits at some other time in the same benefit year.

Myth #4: Benefits Cover Nuclear Families Only

This misconception is understandable because many employees are familiar with the restrictions of FMLA, and may mistakenly assume PFML uses the same restrictions. A worker who needs to care for a sick family member may only take leave under FMLA if the family member is the employee’s child, spouse or parent. PFML uses a broader definition of family member.

According to the law, a family member is defined as: “the spouse, domestic partner, child, parent or parent of a spouse or domestic partner of the covered individual; a person who stood in loco parentis to the covered individual when the covered individual was a minor child; or a grandchild, grandparent or sibling of the covered individual.”

Myth #5: Contributions and Benefits Start in 2019

Workers who are looking forward to using PFML benefits will have to wait a bit longer. Employers are required to start withholding PFML contributions in July of this year, but it will be a few years until the program is adequately funded to pay out benefits. Covered individuals may access PFML benefits starting in 2021. Benefits will be made accessible in two phases.

Starting on January 1, 2021, covered individuals are entitled to:

  • Up to 20 weeks of paid leave to tend to their own serious medical conditions.
  • Up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a newborn or handle issues related to adoption or foster child placements.
  • Up to 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of unexpected issues related to a family member’s active duty service.
  • Up to 26 weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously sick or injured family member who is also a covered service member.

Starting on July 1, 2021, covered individuals are entitled to:

  • Up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member who has a serious medical condition.

In total, a covered individuals is eligible to take up to 26 weeks of paid leave per benefit year. An employee’s benefit year begins on the Sunday before his or her first leave period starts. PFML leave allowances are reset at the end of the benefit year.

Final Steps

PFML is complicated and affects a huge number of Massachusetts families. Expect many more questions to come up over the coming months as you begin to participate in PFML. Contact Commonwealth Payroll & HR if we can be of any help and join us for our free webinar What Employers Need to Know NOW about MA Paid Family Leave on May 22 at 12:00 PM EST.

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