Massachusetts PFML Again – But Not Yet

Posted on: February 14, 2019 0

BY MARTI CARDI, VP-PRODUCT COMPLIANCE 

In our last blog post about Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (MA PFML), we boldly announced we would be holding Session 2 of our webinars on the law soon, targeting late February.  Well, it turns out that the draft regulations issued on January 23 by the Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) are very preliminary and the end of February is much too soon.  We have very little concrete information at this point so discussing the regulations would be quite speculative.  At the end of this post is a summary of the key provisions of the Massachusetts law itself.  In between, let’s share what we do know.

Status of the regulations:  The DFML is holding listening sessions on the draft regs around the state through February, during which they take questions and comments about the draft but do not answer any questions.  I attended the first listening session in Boston and came away with more questions than I started with!  However, I have the good fortune of meeting telephonically periodically with the state Deputy Attorney General who is leading the effort to draft the regulations, so I have been able to share all of my questions, suggestions, and concerns.  The DFML anticipates final regulations by the end of April, with an interim 2nd draft sometime between now and then. 

Employee and employer contribution rates:  One point that seems to be fairly settled is the contribution rates for PFML premiums, which start July 1, 2019. 

Here’s a rundown of what we know:

  • Total premium for both family and medical leave is 0.63% of employee’s wages up to the Social Security taxable amount ($132,900 in 2019)
  • Of that, 0.52% is for medical leave and 0.11% is for family leave
  • The employee pays all of the premium for family leave
  • The premium for medical leave is paid 40% by employee, 60% by employer
  • The net result is that the employer and employee each pay approximately 50% of the total premium
  • Employers can opt to pay for the employee’s share of premiums for the public plan or, in the case of a private plan, not collect premiums

That 0.52%/0.11% split between medical and family leave premiums is contained in the draft regulations so it’s still subject to possible revisions, but the DFML seems pretty set on those numbers.

Private plans:  Sometimes called voluntary plans in other states, the Massachusetts statute does allow employers to opt out of the state “public” plan and instead comply with the law via a private plan administered by the employer, TPA or insurance carrier.  Here is what we know so far:

A private plan must confer all of the same rights, protections and benefits provided to employees under the PFML law, including but not limited to:

  • Providing family leave to a covered individual for the reasons and for the number of weeks required by the law
  • Allowing family or medical leave to be taken intermittently or on a reduced schedule
  • Providing a wage replacement rate during all family and medical leave of at least the amount required by the law
  • Imposing no additional conditions on the use of family or medical leave beyond those explicitly authorized by the law or regulations
  • Using the same employee eligibility requirements as set by the law, and
  • Providing that the cost to employees covered by a private plan shall not be greater than the cost charged under the state program. 

An employer can choose to provide greater employee rights and benefits than those set by the law – e.g., a higher benefit rate or more weeks of paid leave.

Matrix is on it:  Watch this blog for updated information and dates for the next MA PFML webinar as things develop with state procedures and the regulations.  As we did in Washington, Matrix will prepare a Massachusetts private plan template for use by our clients who engage Matrix as their Massachusetts PFML TPA.  One advantage to working with the state on developing the regulations is that Matrix has been able to suggest regulations that will make having a private plan easier for employers and more beneficial to both employers and employees.

Summary of the PFML law

Here are the basic elements of the MA PFML, subject to elaboration and further development through the regulations:

Effective Date:                 

  • Premium contributions: 07-01-2019.
  • Benefits: Family member SHC: 07-01-2021.
  • All other reasons: 01-01-2021.

Administration:               

  • By state; private plans permitted; insurance permitted.

Employee Eligibility:    

  • Employee has been paid wages in the 4 quarters prior to leave amounting to at least 30 times the weekly benefit rate.
  • Includes former employees if eligibility is met at end of employment and leave commences within 26 weeks

Covered Employer:        

  • All; no minimum number of employees

Job Protection:                

  • Same or equivalent position

Leave Reasons:                

  • Employee’s SHC
  • Family member’s SHC
  • Bonding/parental leave
  • Military exigencies (same as FMLA)
  • Care for ill or injured servicemember

Covered Relationships:

FMLA and MA PFML

  •  Spouse
  •  Child
  • Parent

Additional MA PFML Family Members

  • Domestic partner
  • Parent-in-law (including parent of domestic partner)
  • Grandchild
  • Grandparent
  • Sibling

Duration (12 months):                  

  • Employee’s SHC (medical leave): 20 weeks
  • Family leave (bonding, care for family member, or military exigency): 12 weeks
  • Care for service member

Maximum in 12-month period:

  • 26 weeks

Leave Calculation Method:         

  • “Benefit Year” — measured forward 52 weeks from the Sunday preceding the first day of the EE’s covered leave

Leave Use Increments:                 

  • No minimum increment
  • Continuous, intermittent, reduced

Funding:                                             

  • Family leave premium fully paid by EE
  • Medical leave paid 40% by EE, 60% by ER
  • Total premium = 0.63% of EE’s wages
  • Cap on wages subject to premium determined by Social Security program limit ($132,900 for 2019)
  • Split between family and medical leave premiums:
  • 52% for medical and 0.11% for family = 0.63%
  • Comes out to about 50/50 split in total between employer/employee

Benefits:                            

  • 80% on portion of employee’s Average Weekly Wages (AWW) equal to or less than 50% of state AWW, plus
  • 50% on portion of employee’s AWW greater than 50% of state AWW
  • State AWW is currently $1107.48 (Dec 2019)

https://ycharts.com/indicators/massachusetts_average_weekly_earnings_of_all_employees_private_service_providing_unadjusted

  • Maximum based on 64% of state AWW
  • Statutory cap of $850/week if 64% of AWW is higher

Voluntary Plans:              

  • Permitted for medical leave and/or family leave
  • Must be approved by state
  • Insurance permitted (but no details in law)

Effect on other laws:     

  • Concurrent with FMLA
  • There is no existing MA family/medical leave law
  • MA Parental Leave still in effect – 8 weeks for bonding

Draft regulations:           

  • Released 01-23-2019 – lots of work to be done yet!

Massachusetts PFML Rolls Forward – Draft Regulations Released!

Posted on: January 25, 2019 0

BY MARTI CARDI, VP-PRODUCT COMPLIANCE & GAIL COHEN, DIRECTOR-EMPLOYMENT LAW/COMPLIANCE

 

You know you are a compliance geek when the bright spot of your week is the release of new leave law regulations!  Yes, I’m guilty as charged – but I know I’m not alone.  Here’s the scoop:

On January 23 the Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) released draft regulations that start to flesh out the how-to’s of the Massachusetts Paid Family & Medical Leave law (PFML).  The regulations can be accessed from a link on the DFML home page.

 

We know you are eager to learn all about MA PFML, the new draft regulations, and what they mean for your business.  That’s why we will be holding webinars soon – presently targeted for February 27 and 28.

For more information and an invitation to the webinars, watch this blog, contact your sales or account manager, or send us an email at ping@matrixcos.com.

 

 

Kudos to the DFML for getting this document out somewhat early.  The MA law doesn’t require draft regulations until March 31 and final regs until July 1, 2019 – very late in the game, considering employer and employee contributions start on July 1.  However, the DFML is cognizant of the challenges employers will face getting ready for this new leave and benefits law so, truly, the sooner the better.  The Department also expects to finalize the regulations prior to that July 1 deadline.

Be aware, however, this version is very likely to change before being finalized.  For that reason, I am not going into much detail here about what the draft regulations contain.  The document itself states in a header on every page, “DRAFT – REGULATIONS UNDER DEVELOPMENT – FOR THE PURPOSE OF EARLY PUBLIC INPUT ONLY – 1/23/19.”

To this end, the DFML has scheduled 7 public listening sessions to gather comments on the draft regulations.   The sessions run from January 30 through February 19 at various locations around the state.  Dates and locations are available on the DFML home page.

At Matrix we are actively involved in keeping current on MA PFML developments, but we are also helping to shape these and similar regulations.  I lead a small group that has periodic conferences directly with the Massachusetts Undersecretary of Labor/General Counsel for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, who is leading the development of the MA regulations.  In addition I will attend the January 30 listening session in Boston while other Matrix representatives will attend other sessions around the state.

DRAFT REGULATIONS

Much of the content of the draft regulations is a repeat of provisions of the PFML law itself.  There are some details about claims documentation, time limits, and employer reporting obligations.  Much more is needed to define how to apply for and operate a private plan and how to administer claims.  I will be vocal in at the listening session and in my meetings with Commonwealth personnel.

KEY PROVISIONS OF MA PFML

High level, here are the key provisions of the MA PFML law:

Private plans.  Employers can meet their MA PFML obligations through a public plan administered by the Commonwealth or through a private plan for medical and/or family leave that offers benefits at least as beneficial to employees as the state plan.  The law also specifically recognizes that employers can obtain private insurance to cover their benefit obligations under a private plan.

 

Matrix can help!  We anticipate developing a model private plan to meet employers’ MA PFML obligations and assisting in administration once benefits go into effect starting January 1, 2021.  Many details are yet to be developed by the Commonwealth for such plans, so stay tuned.

 

Covered employers.  All employees of any size must comply with the law, although an employer with fewer than 25 employees in the Commonwealth is not required to pay the employer portion of the premiums.

Eligible employees.  An employee is eligible for leave benefits if he or she has been paid wages in the “base period” amounting to at least 30 times the weekly benefit rate.  The base period is the last 4 completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the first day of an individual’s benefit year.  Coverage includes benefits for former employees within 26 weeks of separation and independent contractors if the employee or contractor meets the eligibility requirement.

Funding.  The benefits will be funded at an initial rate of 0.63% of an employee’s average weekly wage (to be adjusted annually):

  • The premium for medical leave (employee’s own serious health condition)
    will be paid 40% by the employee and 60% by the employer
  • The employee pays 100% of the premium for family leave
  • The premium has not yet been apportioned between medical leave and family leave

Premium contributions.  Employers and employees must begin making premium contributions July 1, 2019.  Employers can, of course, choose not to withhold premium from employee paychecks and instead pay the employee share themselves.

Benefit amount.  Weekly benefits are paid based on a percentage of an employee’s wages:

  • Wages equal to or less than 50% of the state average weekly wage (SAWW) will be paid at 80%
  • Any portion of wages in excess of 50% of the SAWW will be paid at 50%
  • Initially, benefits will be capped at $850 per week. Thereafter, benefits are capped at 64% of the SAWW,
    to be adjusted annually.

Paid leave benefits start dates.  Paid leave benefits for all leave reasons except family member serious health condition begin on January 1, 2021.  Paid leave benefits to care for a family member with a serious health condition begin on July 1, 2021.

Leave reasons.  Leave reasons mirror those of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which will run concurrently if both laws are applicable:

  • Employee’s serious health condition
  • Family member’s serious health condition
  • Bonding with a new child
  • Family military exigencies
  • Care for a seriously ill or injured service member

One difference employers will notice is that the list of family members for whom employees can take leave includes not just the employee’s parent, child, or spouse like FMLA, but also domestic partners, parents-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings.  Any MA PFML taken to care for these additional family members will not count toward usage of the employee’s FMLA entitlement.

Leave duration.  Leave durations in a “benefit year” are up to:

  • 20 weeks for medical leave (an employee’s own serious health condition)
  • 12 weeks of family leave (care of a family member with a serious health condition, bonding, or military exigencies)
  • 26 weeks to care for a seriously ill or injured service member
  • An aggregate maximum of 26 weeks in a benefit year for all leave reasons

Benefit year.  All leave entitlements and usage are measured forward 52 weeks from the Sunday preceding the first day of the employee’s covered leave.  (Rolling forward, get it?)

Still geeking out?  Matrix held national webinars last year to help introduce and explain the Massachusetts PFML law.  If you can’t wait until the next round, you can do all your preparation here and be at the very front of the class!

 

MATRIX CAN HELP!  Matrix provides leave, disability, and accommodation management services to employers seeking a comprehensive and compliant solution to these complex employer obligations. We monitor the many leave laws being passed around the country and specialize in understanding how they work together. For leave management and accommodation assistance, contact us at ping@matrixcos.com.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your Engines! State Paid Family and Medical Leave Legislation for 2019 is Here

Posted on: January 3, 2019 0

BY MARTI CARDI, VP-PRODUCT COMPLIANCE & GAIL COHEN, DIRECTOR-EMPLOYMENT LAW/COMPLIANCE

 

Even before Baby New Year needs a diaper change, New Hampshire is first out of the gate with a redux of its 2018 paid family and medical leave (PFML) bill.  A copy of the 2019 version text is not yet available but it is believed to be exactly the same as the 2018 version. 

In 2018 no fewer than 20 state legislatures introduced bills for some form of paid family and medical leave program.  The bills take many forms, from some fairly tepid proposals that would give employers who voluntarily provide paid family and/or medical leave a state tax credit, to full, mandated paid leave programs.  And among these, there are many variations as well:  programs completely run by the state; programs that allow an employer to adopt a private plan to comply with the state law; and programs that contemplate private insurance to fund and administer the paid leave program.

Every state put its own signature on its bill, but there were some common trends:

  • Putting the funding responsibility on employees, either entirely or together with a smaller employer contribution
  • Leave reasons that track FMLA, but often with more family relationships for whom an employee can take leave
    to provide care (common additions include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and domestic partners)
  • Requiring minimum leave increments of one work day or 8 hours

At Matrix we watch all the state legislatures through 2 daily tracking services. We also look at other factors such as the political makeup of the state legislature and the governorship. Based on 2018 activity and a strong Democratic presence in state elected positions for 2019, here is our list of states most likely to pass PFML legislation in 2019:

Colorado

Connecticut

Hawaii

Illinois

Maine

New Mexico

New Hampshire

Oregon

Vermont

 

 

Of course, it is unlikely that all of these states will pass something this year.  If they do, I’ll have to clone my team!  But we will track the introduction of bills and their movement through the legislatures, and we’ll let you know of any major developments through Matrix’s blog www.Matrix-Radar.com and our On Your Radar monthly updates.

 

MATRIX CAN HELP!  Matrix provides leave, disability, and accommodation management services to employers seeking a comprehensive and compliant solution to these complex employer obligations. We monitor the many leave laws being passed around the country and specialize in understanding how they work together. For leave management and accommodation assistance, contact us at ping@matrixcos.com.

Feds Issue Guidance on Tax Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits – and a Possible Extension?

Posted on: September 25, 2018 0

BY MARTI CARDI, VP-PRODUCT COMPLIANCE 

 

On September 24, 2018, the federal Office of Associate Chief Counsel (Tax Exempt and Government Entities) issued a Notice providing guidance on the employer tax credit for paid family and medical leave under §45S of the Internal Revenue CodeNotice 2018-71 does not have the force of regulations which are yet to come, but it does offer employers with much-needed interpretive direction on how the tax credit works and what an employer must do to claim the credit.

We previously blogged about the tax credit when it was passed, and I am happy to say that nothing in the Notice contradicts our interpretations back then.  You can read our summary of the tax credit hereI suggest you go back and read our prior blog post before proceeding here – it will all make more sense!

Possible extension of tax credit.  The tax credit is set to expire on December 31, 2019 – and so is in effect for only 2 years! However, on September 6 the US Senate introduced a bill (S. 3412) that would extend the tax credit by 3 years, through December 31, 2022.  This bill also would require a study to examine the effectiveness of the tax credit for paid family and medical leave.  We’ll be watching and will report any significant movement on that bill.

Highlights of Notice 2018-71.  The Notice has questions and answers on the following topics:

  1. Eligible Employers
  2. Family and Medical Leave
  3. Minimum Paid Leave Requirements
  4. Calculating and Claiming the Credit
  5. Effective Date

Here are some of the more helpful bits of guidance.  All of these answers and examples depend, of course, upon the employer’s policy otherwise meeting all the requirements for the paid leave tax credit.

  • Required policy provision – non-interference. Employers may voluntarily provide paid family leave to employees
    who are not eligible for FMLA leave (called “added employees” in the Act) and receive the tax credit for such
    payments as long as the employer has a policy that complies with the Act. One of the policy requirements is a
    provision against interference with the employee’s policy rights to paid leave, and a provision against termination
    of an employee for complaining about a violation of the policy.  The Notice provides some sample language for
    a policy provision that will satisfy this requirement.  Q&A 3
  • Effective date of tax credit for your policy. An employer’s written policy demonstrating compliance with the tax
    credit law must be effective before the paid leave is taken; but for 2018, this can include a policy with a retroactive
    effective date if the employer pays the leave benefit to any employees who took leave after the retroactive
    effective date. Q&A 5 and 6
  • Purposes for use of paid leave. The employer’s paid leave must be available only for FMLA leave reasons to
    qualify for the tax credit.

    • So, for example, a paid leave policy that allows an employee to use the paid leave for vacation as well as
      FMLA leave reasons would not qualify for the tax credit. Q&A 9
    • On the other hand, a policy that limits the pay benefit to FMLA-covered reasons but includes family
      relationships not covered by the FMLA (g., siblings or grandparents) will get partial coverage by the tax
      credit. Any leave time taken to care for a spouse, for example, will qualify for the tax credit, while other
      time taken to care for a sibling will not, even it the employee provides a pay benefit for both.    Q&A 10
    • The employer’s policy does not need to provide paid leave for all FMLA leave reasons. The Notice
      provides the example of an employer who offers 6 weeks of paid leave only for parental/bonding leave.
      Any paid leave provided pursuant to that policy will qualify for the tax credit even though other FMLA
      leave reasons are not covered.  Q&A 9
  • Existing short term disability plans can count! Paid leave provided under an employer’s short-term disability
    program, whether self-insured by an employer or provided through a short-term disability insurance policy,
    may be characterized as family and medical leave under § 45S if it otherwise meets the requirements for the
    tax credit. Q&A 11

The Notice provides much more information and examples regarding calculation of wages, the tax credit, and many other issues.  If your company is considering taking advantage of this tax credit, do yourself a favor and read the full Notice.

PINGS FOR EMPLOYERS

Our recommendations at this time remain the same as when we first blogged about the federal PFML tax credit.  Remember, Matrix is not a tax or financial advisor, so you need to:

  • Consult your tax advisor. As with all things tax-related, you should consult with your tax advisor to determine
    whether your existing plan is covered by the new paid leave tax credit or what changes you need to make to
    qualify.
  • Consult your financial advisor. If you don’t have a paid leave plan for your employees, consult with your financial
    (and tax) advisor to determine whether the incentive provided by the tax credits is enough to justify offering a paid
    leave benefit to your employees.
  • Consider benefits beyond monetary. In this day of strong competition for good employees, remember that a
    superior benefits package can be a lure.  But, with the tax credit scheduled to last only two years, also consider
    whether your company can continue the benefit if the tax credit expires on December 31, 2019. Even if the law
    is extended by 3 years as proposed by Senate bill 3412, taking away the benefit might not be a good employee
    relations move at a later date.

 MATRIX CAN HELP!

As state and federal programs proliferate, Matrix provides leave, disability, and accommodation management services to employers seeking a comprehensive and compliant solution to these complex employer obligations. We monitor the many leave laws being passed around the country and specialize in understanding how they work together.

If you have questions, contact your Account Manager or ping@matrixcos.com.