State FMLA Changes: Paid Family & Medical Leave

By Glenn A. Duhl, Esq.

FMLA_graphicPaid family and medical leave is a top legislative priority at the federal and state level. As of July 2019, eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws providing employees with paid leave. This article highlights paid leaves laws in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. These laws are either currently in effect or will soon take effect. Employers should be aware of how paid leave is funded, in addition to the reasons allowed for leave, and the benefits to which employees may be entitled.

Massachusetts: Massachusetts enacted its paid family and medical leave law in 2018. Beginning January 1, 2021, all private and state employees are required to provide employees with paid leave:

  1. to bond with a new child (after birth, adoption, or foster care placement),
  2. to care for themselves,
  3. to care for a family member with a serious health condition,
  4. for any qualifying exigency arising out of a family member being on active duty, and
  5. to care for a family member who is a covered servicemember in the armed forces.

Employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave in a year, 20 weeks of paid medical leave in a year, or 26 weeks of paid family leave in a year if caring for a family member who is a covered servicemember.

As of October 1, 2019, employers are required to remit premium contributions to the Family and Employment Security Trust Fund 30 days following the conclusion of each calendar quarter. The total premium rate for the first year is 0.75% of an employee’s wages (0.62% constitutes medical leave contribution; 0.13% constitutes family leave contribution) and this rate is adjusted annually. Employers can deduct from an employee’s wages up to 100% of the contribution for family leave and up to 40% of the contribution for medical leave.

Employees on leave will receive weekly paid benefits based on the amount they earn compared to the state average weekly wage. For example, employees earning 50% or less of the state average weekly wage will receive 80% of their average weekly wage. The maximum weekly benefit is $850 beginning in 2021 and will be adjusted annually to an amount equaling 64% of the state average weekly wage.

Connecticut: Connecticut enacted its paid family and medical leave law in 2019, which creates the Family and Medical Leave Insurance program to provide paid leave for eligible employees beginning in January 2022. The law provides paid leave:

  1. to bond with a new child (after birth, adoption, or foster care placement),
  2. to care for a family member’s serious health condition,
  3. to care for an employee’s own serious health condition,
  4. to serve as an organ or bone marrow donor, and
  5. for any qualifying exigency or impending call to active military duty.

Under the law, eligible employees will be provided with 12 weeks of benefits over a 12-month period. Employees will also be provided with 2 additional weeks of benefits for a serious health condition that occurs during pregnancy and results in incapacitation.

The law covers all private employers. Beginning in January 2021, the Connecticut Department of Labor will begin collecting a 0.5% payroll tax on all employees to fund paid leave.

Employees will receive benefits on a sliding scale. For example, for employees who are paid wages less than or equal to the state minimum wage multiplied by 40, the weekly benefit rate is 95% of the employee’s average weekly wage. For employees earning more than the state minimum wage multiplied by 40, the weekly benefit rate may be up to 60 times the minimum wage. The maximum weekly benefit is capped at $900 a week.

New York State: New York enacted its paid family and medical leave law in 2016, which became effective in 2018. The law currently provides for 10 weeks of paid family leave

  1. to bond with a new child (after birth, adoption, or foster care placement),
  2. to care for a family member with a serious health condition, and
  3. for a qualifying exigency arising out of a spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent being on active duty.

The law also provides for 26 weeks of paid leave for employees to care for their own disability.

The law covers most private employers. Employee benefits for disability leave are funded jointly by employee and employer payroll contributions, and the standard premium rate is $0.14 per $100 of employee payroll. Employers may deduct half of 1% of each employee’s wages, but not more than to $0.60 per week, to offset the cost of providing disability benefits. Employers contribute the remaining balance. Benefits for family leave are funded by employees only, with the maximum employee contribution set annually by the state superintendent of financial services. For 2019, the family leave contribution rate is 0.153% of an employee’s gross wages each pay period, which increases to 0.270% in 2020.

As of January 1, 2020, the benefits paid to employees for family leave will be 60% of their weekly wage up to 60% of the state average weekly wage. The benefit paid for own-disability leave is 50% of the employee’s weekly wage, with a maximum benefit of $170 with one exception: If the employee’s average weekly wage is less than $20, the benefit will be that employee’s full average weekly wage.

Rhode Island: Rhode Island enacted its paid family and medical leave law in 2013, which took effect in 2014. Employees are eligible for paid family leave if they are unable to perform their regular and customary work because they are:

  1. bonding with a new child (after birth, adoption, or foster care placement) or
  2. caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

Employees may also receive paid disability leave for their own disability. The law provides for four weeks of paid family leave in a year, and up to 30 weeks in a year for an employee’s own disability leave, for a maximum of 30 weeks per year for combined own-disability and family leave.

All private employers are covered. The employee funds disability and family care leave. As of July 2019, the withholding rate is 1.1% of the employee’s first $71,000 earned.

An employee taking paid leave will receive 4.62% of the wages paid to the employee in the highest quarter of his/her base period, or the first four of the most recently completed five calendar quarters immediately preceding the first day of an individual’s benefit year. The weekly benefit rate remains the same throughout the year. For claims effective July 1, 2019 or later, $867.00 is the maximum benefit rate and $98.00 is the minimum rate. Also, employees with dependent children less than 18 years of age may be entitled to dependency allowance. This allowance is limited to five dependents and is equal to the greater of $10 or 7% of the employee’s benefit rate.

These state laws differ on the length of leave, permitted reasons for leave, funding for leave, and the amount of benefits provided during leave. Employers operating in each of these states need to be aware of these differences. Employers also should watch for annual changes made to benefits provided to employees under these laws to ensure continued compliance. And remember, the federal laws also apply!

Glenn A. Duhl is a management-side employment and litigation lawyer at Zangari Cohn Cuthbertson Duhl & Grello P.C. Contact: (203) 786-3709; gduhl@zcclawfirm.com; www.zcclawfirm.com. The information contained in this article is general in nature and offered for informational purposes only. It is not offered and should not be construed as legal advice.

Image courtesy of Fed Smith