Casner & Edwards

Client Alert: Massachusetts PFML Scenarios – Parental Leave

By: Stéphanie Smith

As of January 1, 2021, the Massachusetts employees can start applying for paid Parental and Family Leave (PFML) benefits.  With so many laws and benefits to keep track of, it is easy to get confused.  Below is a quick refresher on key principles to keep in mind when handling parental leave requests, and some real-life scenarios bringing these principles together.  

Key Principles:
  • An Alphabet Soup of Leave Entitlements: All leave entitlements for which an employee may be eligible under federal and state law must be considered when handling leave requests.
- The PFML applies to nearly all Massachusetts employers.  All MA eligible1 employees may apply for PFML benefits as of January 1, 2021, regardless of their length of service with their current employer.  
- The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to employers with at least 50 employees.  Employees who work for such an employer may be eligible for an unpaid leave under the FMLA, if they worked for the employer at least 1,250 hours in the 12-month period before the start of the leave.  Importantly, the 12-month “benefit year” under the PFML is calculated differently than under the FMLA, so employers must calculate and track the two types of leaves carefully.
Massachusetts Parental Leave Act (MPLA): Massachusetts full-time employees who have completed their employer’s introductory period (or worked for at least 3 months) are entitled to 8 weeks of unpaid leave in connection with the birth, adoption or placement in foster care of a child under the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act (MPLA). 

  • Amount of Leave: The PFML did not replace the MPLA or the FMLA and the three statutory schemes have different eligibility requirements.  Therefore, employers must evaluate an employee’s eligibility for leave under the PFML, FMLA and MPLA, as applicable, independently.  However, such leaves run concurrently, where applicable.
  • Interaction with Other Paid Benefits: Employees who are eligible for PFML benefits may be eligible for additional income supplementation under a separate employer policy or plan (for example, under their employer’s short-term disability insurance policy or paid family or medical leave policies).  However, amounts paid to employees may offset PFML benefits.  
  • Disabled Employees May Need to Be Granted Additional Leave: Covered employers remain under a continuing obligation under federal and state law to consider granting a request by a qualified disabled employee for a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation, even if the individual has exhausted all other leave entitlements.     
Note: For the sake of simplicity, the scenarios below assume that the employee did not take any other leave of absence before the leave request.

Scenario # 1: A full-time female employee hired on January 15, 2021 gives birth to a child on April 20, 2021.
The employee may take up to 12 weeks of parental leave benefits under the PFML if she meets the PFML’s eligibility requirements.  (The employee may apply for PFML benefits up to 60 days before the expected start of the leave).  The first 8 weeks of leave will run concurrently with the employee’s leave entitlement under the MPLA. 

The first 7 calendar days of the employee’s absence is a waiting period under the PFML, during which no PFML benefits will be paid; however, the employee may elect (but under the MPLA, cannot be required) to use any accrued paid time off, such as vacation or sick time off, during that time.  After the first 7-day waiting period, the employee will be eligible for PFML benefits, up to a maximum of $850 per week. 

Under the PFML, the employee may supplement PFML benefits with short-term disability insurance benefits or paid parental leave benefits under a policy or program offered by her employer (up to 100% of the employee’s base salary).  Such benefits will run concurrently with the PFML and MPLA leave.

Employees may not supplement PFML benefits received from the state with accrued paid time off.  Employers must notify employees that, if they choose to use their accrued vacation or sick time off after the one-week waiting period, PFML benefits may be reduced.2 

Scenario # 2: Same scenario as # 1, but the employee gave birth on December 1, 2020.

The female employee is eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave under the PFML.  PFML leave in 2021 in connection with a birth, adoption or placement in foster care of a child that occurred in 2020 must be completed within 12 months after the birth of the child (i.e., before the child’s first birthday) or the one-year anniversary of the adoption or placement in foster care. 

Scenario # 3: Same scenario as # 1, except that the employee is ordered on bed rest due to complications from the pregnancy, four weeks before the birth of the child.
The employee will be eligible for 4 weeks of medical leave under the PFML as a result of her serious health condition, and up to an additional 12 weeks of parental leave after the birth of the child. The employee’s leave under the MPLA will begin on the birth of the child and run concurrently with the PFML.  If the employee were eligible for FMLA, her FMLA would start on the day she was placed on bed rest.

Scenario # 4: A full-time male employee who has worked for an employer with 100 employees for three years seeks two weeks off from work in connection with the birth of his child, and every Thursday and Friday off every week thereafter, for up to 6 months after the child’s birth.
The male employee is eligible for FMLA, MPLA, and PFML.  The male employee should apply for PFML benefits. The first week will be a waiting period, during which no PFML benefits will be paid (however, the employee may elect accrued paid time off to receive pay during that time).  The male employee will receive PFML benefits during the second full week of his absence (if his employer offers paid parental leave, those benefits may supplement PFML benefits paid by the state). The employee cannot supplement PFML benefits paid by the state with paid vacation or sick time off (as noted below, a private plan may provide differently).

After the first two weeks, under both the FMLA and PFML, the employee needs approval from his employer to continue his parental leave on an intermittent basis.  The employee may need to file a separate application for intermittent PFML leave with the Department of Paid Family and Medical Leave, since the timing and duration of the time off requested will differ from the initial application for two consecutive weeks of leave.  If granted, the employee’s PFML benefits will be prorated from the weekly benefit amount, in direct proportion to the amount of leave taken.  

The above scenarios are simplified and provided for illustration purposes only.  Leave management is a highly fact-specific inquiry. Please consult with our Labor & Employment attorneys with any questions. 

1  Certain types of work are excluded from PFML coverage.  Employees must also meet an earnings requirement to be eligible for PFML benefits. For more information, see “Your eligibility for paid family and medical leave (PFML)
2  A private PFML plan may offer greater benefits than those offered by the state’s PFML program and it is possible that such plan may allow an employee to supplement PFML benefits with paid vacation or sick time off.  Employers with a private PFML plan should consult the terms of their plan and confirm how accrued time off paid to an employee may impact the amount of PFML benefits paid thereunder.


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