In January 2021, Massachusetts began offering a new Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) benefit for anyone who works in the state. With the birth of my son in April, I was able to take advantage of this new benefit and wanted to share my experience, as well as some lessons learned.
What is it?
PFML provides paid leave to manage your own serious health condition (up to 20 weeks per year) or for family-related reasons (up to 12 weeks per year), including birth/adoption of a child or caring for a family member with a serious health condition. Similar to the federal FMLA program, PFML leave is “job-protected.” For family leave to bond with a child, eligibility is limited to the child’s parents or legal guardians and must be taken before the child’s first birthday or the one-year anniversary of their adoption or foster care placement. You can take PFML as a continuous leave, on a reduced work schedule, or an intermittent schedule.
PFML is funded through a payroll tax (you’ll see it if you look on your paystub!) and your benefit amount is calculated based on past covered wages. It uses a progressive calculation (i.e., the wage replacement rate decreases as income increases) that eventually caps out at a maximum benefit of $850 per week. You can use this calculator to estimate your benefits: https://calculator.digital.mass.gov/pfml/yourbenefits/
Who is eligible?
Generally, PFML is available to anyone who works in MA and has contributed to the program via the PFML payroll tax. This covers the vast majority of workers, including W-2 employees (full-time, part-time or seasonal) and most 1099-MISC contractors. You must meet an earnings requirement of $5,400 during the last 4 completed calendar quarters. If you are self-employed (or an uncovered 1099-MISC contractor), you can choose to opt-in to the PFML program.
Make sure that you inform your employer at least 30 days before any planned leave. If you need to take an unplanned leave (for example, due to medical reasons), tell your employer as soon as possible. Once you tell your employer, you have the right to apply and your job is protected. Make a note of when you notified your employer as you will need to provide this date in your leave application!
The actual process of applying for your leave is very simple and only takes around 15 minutes. You create an account online with the MA Dept of Family and Medical Leave, upload documents to prove your identity, select your type of leave and leave details, enter your employer information, and finally choose your payment method. The application will ask you for your employer’s Tax ID and the date that you informed your employer that you would be planning to take a leave of absence, so make sure you have both of those handy.
Note that if you are signing up for the birth of a child, you will be provisionally approved. Only after your child is born and you provide a statement from the hospital (or other official government record with the child’s date of birth) will you be approved to receive benefits. For me, the hospital provided a statement of birth the day my son was born, which I uploaded to the MA PFML website via my phone that same day.
The fastest way to receive benefits is electronically, although, as I found out, there is still a delay of several weeks before receiving your first payment. There is also a little known “seven-day waiting period,” meaning that even though the job-protection benefit is provided for 12 weeks you only actually get paid for 11 weeks!
One final tax-related nuance is that PFML benefit payments are fully taxable, yet they are paid to you without any withholding. This means that you may want to increase your regular tax withholding or send in extra if you make quarterly estimated tax payments to avoid a potential penalty when you file your taxes the following year.
Summing it up
In a 2017 report, the Pew Research Center found that 40% of workers who took family leave took less time off than they needed or wanted to. Unfortunately, the US is one of the only developed countries in the world that does not offer a nationwide paid family/medical leave benefit. Thankfully however, Massachusetts is now one of about 10 states that offer such a benefit (this number is continuing to grow—in 2016 it was just four states) and perhaps we will soon see a similar program at the federal level. I feel very fortunate to have been one of the first to benefit from the MA PFML program. If you have any questions about it please don’t hesitate to reach out.