Basics of the New Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Law

The following is a summary of several key provisions of the new paid family and medical leave law. It is not intended to cover all aspects of the new law. This law is mandatory for all private sector employers effective January 1, 2019. Because it is a local option statute, public employers will not be subject to the law unless and until accepted by vote of the local legislative or governing body. Please note that certain provisions of the law go into effect on January 1, 2019, while other provisions go into effect on later dates through 2021. We will continue to publish updates on this topic once regulations are promulgated and as the various provisions of the law go into effect.

What the law does

Chapter 121 of the Acts of 2018 (“the law”) establishes a paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts. Beginning January 1, 2021, Massachusetts employees will be able to take paid medical leave for their own serious health condition as well as paid family leave to bond with their child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth (or placement through the adoption/foster care process). Beginning July 1, 2021, employees will be able to take paid family leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The law also provides paid family and medical leave for employees who are in the armed forces or who have family members in the armed forces.

Employees will be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave in a year and up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave in a year; however, the total amount of leave an employee may take in any given year (for family and medical leave combined) will be limited to 26 weeks. While on leave, employees will be paid a “weekly benefit amount” determined by the new Department of Family and Medical Leave.

Who the law affects

Like the 2015 earned sick time law, the new family and medical leave law is a local option statute. It automatically applies to all private employers in Massachusetts, but it will not apply to any municipality, district, political subdivision, or instrumentality of the commonwealth unless adopted by vote of the local legislative or governing body.

Public employers in municipalities that do not accept the law will continue to be subject to the provisions of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and any existing medical/family/disability leave policies and collectively bargained agreements.

How the law works

The law establishes a new Department of Family and Medical Leave (“the department”). Beginning July 1, 2019, the department will begin to collect contributions from employees and employers with 25 or more employees. The Director of the department will set the contribution rate annually and contributions will be placed in the new “Family and Employment Security Trust Fund.” The Fund will be administered by the treasurer and receiver general.

In January 2021, when the leave entitlements begin to take effect, the department will be responsible for administering leave payments through a claims system.

The law requires employees to provide employers with at least 30 days’ notice of the anticipated start date of the leave, the expected duration of the leave, and the expected return-to-work date. While the department will handle the claims process, employers will be responsible for supplying information to the department such as information regarding an employee’s wages, earnings, and other employment information. Employers will face potential financial liability for failure to timely supply such information to the department.

Upon their return from leave, employees must be restored to the same status, pay, benefits, and seniority that they had when the leave began. The law prohibits retaliation by an employer against an employee for exercising their rights under the law. There will be a presumption of retaliation if an employer takes any adverse action against an employee during the employee’s leave or within six months after an employee returns from leave. The law also establishes a private right of action for violations of the law with a three-year statute of limitations. Employers found to have violated the law may be liable for treble damages for lost wages, benefits, and other remuneration, plus interest and attorneys’ fees.

Rolling Implementation

Even though many of the key provisions of the law do not go into effect until 2021, some provisions – such as the law’s posting and notice requirements – take effect on January 1, 2019.

Beginning January 1, 2019, employers will be required to post information about the law in a conspicuous place at each of the employer’s locations. Employers will also have 30 days to provide existing and new employees with written information about the law and obtain each employee’s written acknowledgment of receipt or refusal. Failure to adhere to the posting and notice requirements will subject employers to a fine of $50 per employee for the first violation and $300 per employee for each subsequent violation.

Additional aspects of the law take effect between 2019 and 2021. We will continue to post updates and reminders to our clients as these additional changes draw closer.

Interaction with Other Leaves

Massachusetts family and medical leave can run concurrently with parental leave and FMLA. Employers will not be permitted to require employees to exhaust their sick, vacation, or personal time prior to or while taking leave. If an employee’s collective bargaining agreement provides for greater payment than the statute, the employer will be required to pay the higher amount, although the time spent out on leave will still count against the statutory leave entitlement.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.