Help when you need it: Paid family and medical leave in Massachusetts

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Posted 21 July 2022 by Fallon Health

By Jill Green Lebow

As a family caregiver, you’re likely familiar with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But did you know that Massachusetts is only one of 10 states in the country, along with the District of Columbia, to have enacted a paid family leave law? 

That’s right—the Massachusetts’ Paid Family and Medical Leave (MA PFML) law was enacted in 2018. Just last year, in 2021, the commonwealth’s paid leave program went into effect—and it’s one of the most generous in the country.

This is great news, but it can also be confusing. There are a lot of questions to be answered, like:

  • What is MA PFML? 
  • How is it different from FMLA (aside from the fact that the state’s law provides paid leave and the federal law doesn’t)? 
  • What are the major benefits of MA PFML? 
  • Who is eligible and how do you apply for leave? 

Here are some of the things you need to know.

What is MA PFML?

MA PFML is a Massachusetts state law. It provides job protection and temporary wage replacement for most people who work in Massachusetts when they need to manage family or medical situations, such as:

  • a family member’s serious health condition
  • their own serious health condition
  • bonding with a new child
  • the affairs of an active-duty family member who has been—or will soon be—deployed

MA PFML also refers to the state’s paid family and medical leave program, which is run by the Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave. The program provides benefits (more on those later) to people in the family/medical situations covered by the law.

Three major differences between MA PFML and FMLA

  1. Money. The biggest difference is that the state’s paid leave law provides temporary wage replacement in addition to job protection. The federal law only provides job protection.
  2. Time. MA PFML provides up to 26 weeks of combined family and medical leave per benefit year. FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of leave per benefit year*.
  3. Eligibility. MA PFML applies to most people who work in Massachusetts (details are in the next section). That’s because the law applies to all Massachusetts employers, regardless of how many people they employ. On the other hand, FMLA applies only to some employees—those who work for an employer that has more than 50 employees.

Please note: Massachusetts employers can choose to provide a private paid leave plan instead of participating in the state’s program. They’re required to provide benefits that are at least as generous as what the state provides.

Key benefits of MA PFML

Massachusetts employees are entitled to the following in a benefit year*:

  • Up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to
    • care for a family member with a serious health condition
    • bond with a new child
    • manage family needs that come after an active-duty family member is deployed or gets notification of an upcoming deployment
  • Up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave because of their own serious health condition
  • Up to 26 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member injured while on active duty
  • 26 weeks total of combined family and medical leave

Who is eligible for MA PFML?

If you work in Massachusetts, either as an employee or as a contractor who receives a 1099 tax form, you’re most likely eligible for MA PFML. However, there are cases where you may not be—for example, if the job you have is one that’s automatically excluded from unemployment insurance. The state’s website has a list of types of employment that aren’t covered by PFML.

Your earnings also play a role in eligibility. First, you’ll need to meet a minimum earnings requirement for the year prior to your claim. For 2022, that amount is $5,700 (this figure can change annually).

Second, you’ll need to have earned at least 30 times more than the weekly wage-replacement amount you would be eligible to receive (more on that in the next section). Don’t worry too much about doing the math. The state’s online benefits calculator can help you determine if you meet these requirements.

How much will the paid benefit amount be?

This is determined by a couple of factors: your individual average weekly wage and the state average weekly wage. The state’s website provides a detailed explanation about how wage-replacement amounts are calculated. Generally speaking, the calculation involves percentages of each of those weekly wage amounts and takes into account when you start your leave.

Remember: Private plans offered by employers will provide at least what the state would pay and may provide higher benefits.

How to get started with MA PFML

When you’ve decided you need to take MA PFML, inform your employer right away. You cannot submit your application until you’ve done so. Giving notice also provides you valuable legal protections regarding your position and health insurance, and protects you against retaliation.

If you’re applying for leave because of a planned event, you must give your employer at least 30 days’ notice. If an unexpected situation occurs, you can start leave and apply afterward. This is called retroactive leave, and you can apply for it up to 90 calendar days after starting your leave.

When you inform your employer about your leave, provide them with this information:
  • Anticipated start date (or actual start date, if applying for retroactive leave) and estimated length of leave
  • Expected date of return from leave
  • Expected leave schedule, as defined by the following:
    • Continuous – a single time period of uninterrupted days
    • Intermittent – multiple periods of time off that may be unpredictable
    • Reduced – a consistent schedule for multiple weeks but made up of fewer hours or days per week

As we know all too well, life isn’t predictable. So if your leave situation changes, be sure to update your employer right away.

Types of medical leave

There are three types of paid family and medical leave:
  1. Continuous. Complete leave from work for an uninterrupted number of days or weeks.
  2. Reduced. Working fewer than regular hours on a consistent schedule for a period of weeks. For example, taking leave on Monday and Wednesday while working regular hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
  3. Intermittent. Leave hours are irregular and not on a set schedule. This is especially helpful for caregivers who may need to help family members with any care needs or bring them to medical appointments.

Please note: You’ll have to have a health care provider confirm your need for leave. And since the leave hours are irregular and/or unpredictable, you’ll need to report them each week. As a result, your payments will vary.

The state’s website has complete details on all three types of leave, including information about how to combine leave schedules, and how to apply.

Additional information

There is a lot to know about the MA PFML program—more than I could fit in this blog. Your employer’s human resources department is a great place to get more information. The state’s website also has a comprehensive library of information about MA PFML for both employers and employees. Visit https://www.mass.gov/topics/paid-family-and-medical-leave-in-massachusetts


*A benefit year for MA PFML is 12 months, starting on the Sunday prior to your first day of paid leave. For example, if you begin your leave on a Thursday, your benefit year officially began on the previous Sunday.

A benefit year for FMLA is also 12-month period that can be a calendar year or a fixed period such as a fiscal year. This benefit year can be measured forward, from the first day FMLA leave is taken, or measured backward from when any FMLA leave is taken. This is called a rolling 12-month period, as it looks back to see if any FMLA leave has been used.


Jill Lebow is Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Fallon Health.

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