Employer Alert: Massachusetts Updates Family and Medical Leave Laws

Massachusetts has recently enacted legislation establishing mandatory paid medical leave for employees. This legislation creates a significant new benefit that in many cases will exceed the benefits currently afforded through the Family and Medical Leave Act, or through an employer’s own benefit policies. The paid medical leave program is codified as Chapter 175M of the General Laws; this is a lengthy, complex statute (almost 9,000 words), but the important features are as follows:

  • The program creates two different types of paid leave:
  • “Family Leave” is available for up to 12 weeks, to care for an employee’s newborn child, newly adopted child, or family member with a serious health condition. Family leave is also available in some circumstances when an employee’s family member has been called to active military service.
  • “Medical Leave” is available for up to 20 weeks, for the employee’s own serious health condition.
  • The definition of “serious health condition” is quite broad; any illness requiring ongoing treatment by a health care provider will generally qualify.
  • There is an aggregate limit of 26 weeks per year per employee for both Family Leave and Medical Leave combined.
  • An employee returning from Family Leave or Medical Leave generally has to be restored to his or her previous position, with no loss of benefits or seniority.
  • Family Leave or Medical Leave will run concurrently with any other established leave programs, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. Where there is another paid leave program available that will run concurrently with Family Leave or Medical Leave, the employee will be entitled to the highest of any available benefit.
  • The financial benefit of Family Leave or Medical Leave is based on a sliding scale of the employee’s income, not to exceed 64% of the state average weekly wage (currently, this would be a cap of about $850.00).
  • The program will be funded through a new payroll tax of 0.63%. This tax will be split between employers and employees based on a formula; the split winds up being about 50/50. The tax will be collected starting on July 1, 2019, and benefits will first be available to employees in 2021.
  • Small employers (fewer than 25 employees) will not have to pay the employer’s portion of the tax.
  • Self-employed individuals can opt-in to the program by agreeing to pay the tax.
  • The program will be administered by a new state agency, the Department of Family and Medical Leave. This agency will issue regulations and guidance to help employers comply with the requirements of the program.
  • One employer requirement already in place involves notice to employees. Starting January 1, 2019, employers must post a notice describing the benefits available under the program. Employers must also provide each new employee a written explanation of the program.

Although Chapter 175M spells out the parameters of the new paid medical leave law in significant detail, the statutory language is dense, and most employers will be looking for additional guidance from Department of Family and Medical Leave. The employment attorneys at Barton Gilman are also ready to assist with the transition to this significant new program.

For more information

For more information or if you have questions about complying with the new law, please contact Kevin Hensley at khensley@bglaw.com, or by phone at 617.654.8200.

Barton Gilman’s employment law team provides comprehensive legal guidance to a wide variety of employers on all aspects of the employment cycle—from hiring through separation—including personnel policies and handbooks, non-compete agreements, and representation before state and federal courts and agencies. To learn more, please visit dev.loebigink.com/bglaw/service/labor-and-employment.