The Massachusetts Senate recently passed legislation establishing a paid family and medical leave program for all Massachusetts workers. The bill creates a system for paid, job-protected leave for employees who must take time off from work to recover from their own serious health condition or to care for a new child or ill family member.
The Senate bill requires employers to offer employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave for family care and up to 26 weeks for temporary disability leave. Employees would be eligible for benefits after 1,250 hours of service for the employer, the current federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) standard.
“It is vitally important that our workforce has appropriate support and protections if they have to take medical leave to recover from a serious health issue or care for a recovering family member,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This lack of security harms families, the public health, and our economy. Advancing this legislation will help working families.”
California, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island currently require employers to provide paid family and medical leave for their employees, a benefit that many Massachusetts businesses voluntarily offer. Businesses offering paid family and medical leave have reported less employee turnover and savings associated with recruiting and training new employees, as well as improved morale and productivity.
While certain Massachusetts workers currently have access to unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), nearly 40% of workers are not eligible. A 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report points to the inability to afford unpaid leave as the primary reason workers do not take full advantage of leave under FMLA.
The bill creates a Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, run by the Department of Family and Medical Leave within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, to administer paid leave benefits. Family care and temporary disability leave benefits would begin at 50% of an employee’s average weekly wage as of January 1, 2018 and increase to 70% in 2019 and 90% in 2020, with a maximum weekly benefit of $1,000, with flexibility included in the legislation for small business of ten or fewer employees. Employers and employees are anticipated to equally share the cost of contributions to the Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, although employers may opt to pay a greater share or the full amount of the contribution.
In addition, the bill protects and prevents retaliation against employees who use family or medical leave. Employees who take paid leave must be restored to their previous position, or to a substantially similar position, and they must remain eligible for previously accrued vacation time, sick time, bonuses, advancement or other employment benefits. Employers are also prohibited from requiring employees to exhaust rights to any sick, vacation or personal time prior to or while taking leave.
Although formal sessions have concluded for the term, the Senate will continue to work with the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Governor Baker to advance this effort.