Decoding MA Paid Family Medical Leave

Updated: Jun 1

Everything you need to know about the new Massachusetts PFML

January 1, 2021 is a day to mark on your calendar - and not just because it is no longer 2020. The MA Paid Family & Medical Leave Act is finally here!

When we first wrote about the MA PFML benefits in March 2019 this day seemed SO FAR AWAY! At that point, parental leave wasn’t even on the minds of the families who are going to be among the first to use this benefit, and now it is just days away.

To make sure that all of these great benefits are not the “Best Kept Secret” of 2021, here is some important information for you to know - and to share with all of your other expectant and new parent friends. Keep reading for my two big AHA! moments for new parents.

Is PFML different than FMLA?

Very different! The Federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has been around since the early 90s and at the time was a step towards providing job projection. In reality, only about half of employees are eligible for FMLA and it doesn’t provide any paid leave.

The Massachusetts Paid Family & Medical Leave Act takes a major leap forward by providing paid leave for employees who are expanding their family, dealing with medical issues, or caring for family members who have medical issues.

*There are some limited exceptions, namely public school employees, employees of municipalities, and some religious institutions; Also if you live in MA working for an out-of-state employer you are not eligible.

UPDATE: Intermittant use is available for PFML for birth/adoption/foster.

Key Takeaways

Greater eligibility: If you have just started a new job, or recently left a job you may still be eligible for paid leave under PFML.

Definition of family: Families are created in a variety of ways and the MA PFML recognizes that with an expanded definition of family. Way to go, MA!

Benefit payment: The payment you receive from PFML is a calculation based on the state’s average weekly pay and your take home pay. It is capped at $850. Calculate your benefit here.

Exemptions: There are some exemptions and reasons that your benefit may be reduced such as if you are taking unemployment or chose to use your employer’s PTO. Learn more at the MA Department of Family & Medical Leave.

MA PFML is a state program- not an employer-sponsored program: Benefits are paid and applications are managed by the Commonwealth. You will want to coordinate your leave with your HR in conjunction with the MA Department of Family and Medical Leave.

(As a reminder, I am not a lawyer, just a well read and informed consumer. This is not meant to be legal advice. If you have questions I encourage you to reach out to your HR department and the MA Department of Family and Medical Leave.)

My AHA! Moments

I mentioned earlier that I had two big revelations about the MA PFML that when I first heard them made me want to shout from the rooftops for all new and expectant parents to hear.

#1 - If you are the birthing parent, you can stack medical leave and bonding leave. For example, a vaginal birth may be considered a medical event that allows 6 weeks (or 8 for a cesarean) of medical leave and you can take 12 weeks of bonding leave for a total of 18 weeks.

#2 - You can take your 12 weeks of bonding leave at any time in the first year. For this first year of PFML that creates a unique opportunity. If you had a baby in 2020, even if you took parental leave at the time, you may still be eligible for 12 weeks paid bonding time. This seems like a real gift right now while so many are struggling to navigate home and work with an infant.

This is a complex change to how the state and employers think about parental leave and I'm sure there will be lots of questions and bumps in the road as it is rolled out. Ask questions. Advocate for your family. Work with your employer to make this a great experience for all.

If you need some extra support as you are going through the transitions related to planning for, taking, and returning from parental leave, individual coaching and consulting is available from Soutiens.