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Legislative update: Massachusetts paid family leave

Massachusetts paid leave legislation

Yesterday, the state legislature's Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development held a hearing on the paid family leave bills pending in the Massachusetts House and Senate. The bills attempt to provide for some level of paid family and medical leave for affected employees.

As I have written about here before, the US is the only advanced economy that does not mandate paid family leave for mothers at the federal level.

And, on top of needing time off from work to care for a new child, about one-in-four Americans recently reported they had taken leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition. With the limited exception of the Massachusetts paid sick leave law, there is no law that requires that type of family leave to be paid either.

Some states, like Massachusetts, as they often do in our Federalist system, are stepping in to try and fill this gap.

The state Senate's bill, like the one passed last year, sets up a state-administered benefit system to allow for some paid benefits for employees who must take time off from work for serious health issues or to care for a new child or sick family member. The family leave benefit would be capped at 16 weeks. The medical leave benefit would be capped at 26 weeks. The level of benefits would max out at $1,000 a week, an amount that would increase in accordance with inflation. Varying eligibility requirements apply, including that individuals would have to work for 1,250 hours before the benefit applies, similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The House bill is administered a bit differently. But in terms of hard benefits, the weekly pay would be capped at $650 per week, at least initially, though it would also be adjusted annually. The family leave benefit would be for up to 12 weeks. The medical leave would be for up to 26 weeks, similar to the Senate bill.

Both bills include provisions generally requiring an employer to restore an employee who has taken leave to his or her previous, or a similar, position, with the same status, pay, employment benefits, length of service credit, and seniority as of the date of leave. There are certain exceptions.

And both bills would require that the employer continue to provide for and contribute to the employee’s health insurance, if any, under the same terms and conditions as existing prior to the employee’s leave. Additionally, under both bills, the leave would not affect an employee's right to accrue vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, seniority, or length of service credit.

Most of the terms used above -- including "medical leave," "family leave," and "health condition" -- have strict and sometimes narrow definitions under the respective bills. The above is simply a high level overview.

And of course, we still have a ways to go before these bills are (possibly) reconciled and/or passed by each house.

Either of these bills would, however, in some measure fill a gap in the current legislative landscape where individuals are having to take substantial amounts of time, unpaid, from work in order to care for family members or look after themselves. Each would have some meaningful impact. I will be following closely.

Doorways Employment Law is a virtual employment law practice, leveraging the power of technology to connect with clients in the most efficient and convenient way possible. It specializes in employment law counseling, strategic advice and representation to individuals and businesses across Massachusetts, including on family leave and medical leave issues. Contact Doorways Employment Law for an employment law consultation.

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