By now, most employers and employees in the Bay State are familiar with the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program, which provides support for employees who need to take time off for family or medical reasons. However, new “top off” legislation went into effect on November 1, 2023, allowing employees receiving PFML benefits to supplement them with any available accrued paid leave.
Keep reading for our breakdown of the most common questions:
- What is Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave?
- What kind of workers are eligible?
- How does MA PFML work?
- When can employees use it?
- What does the application and review process involve?
- What does the new “top off” legislation say?
Click any of the above to jump to a certain section, or keep scrolling for the full breakdown!
What is Massachusetts Paid Family & Medical Leave?
MA PFML is a state-offered benefit for Massachusetts workers, run by the state’s Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML). It provides up to 26 weeks of paid leave per benefit year for qualifying medical or family reasons. The PFML is funded through a state tax and is separate from both the FMLA and leave benefits your employer may offer.
Note: Employers that offer a DFML-approved private or self-insured plan with benefits equal to or greater than PFML are exempt from making PFML contributions.
Learn more about MA Earned Sick Leave Law, another essential benefit for Commonwealth workers.
What kind of workers are eligible?
Most Massachusetts workers are eligible for PFML, including W-2 employees, self-employed individuals, and 1099-MISC contractors, as long as they’ve met the minimum earnings requirement set annually by the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA).
This means full-time, part-time, or seasonal employees. Employees are eligible if their employer doesn’t have a DFML-approved private paid leave plan with benefits that are equal to or greater than PFML coverage.
Former W-2 employees can also qualify if they have been unemployed for 26 weeks or less at the start of their leave, regardless of the termination reason.
Out-of-state employees are also eligible if the employer reports their wages to the Department of Unemployment Assistance.
- Stay enrolled for at least 3 years
- File quarterly earnings reports during this time
- Make the full quarterly contributions for both family and medical leave based on your earnings
To be eligible, a self-employed worker must:
- Have met the DUA’s minimum earnings requirement during the last 4 completed calendar quarters
- Earned at least 30x the benefit amount that you are eligible for
- Contribute for at least 2 of your last 4 completed calendar quarters before claiming benefits
1099-MISC contract workers who are self-employed and work for a business with a workforce made up of at least 50% 1099-MISC contractors are also eligible for PFML.
How does MA PFML work?
Get the low-down on how MA PFML is funded and administered.
Employer Cost & Responsibilities
Whether or not employers must contribute to the PFML fund depends on their total workforce size. If you had 25 or more covered employees last year, then you must make employer contributions for those covered workers. If you had fewer than 25 covered employees last year, then you don’t need to make an employer contribution this year. However, you will need to send the employee’s contributions on their behalf.
If you are responsible for MA PFML employer contributions, you can calculate them on MassTaxConnect. In 2024, employers must make a contribution of 0.88% of eligible wages (0.18% for family contribution + 0.70% for medical contribution), which can be split between covered individuals’ payroll or wage withholdings and an employer contribution. Specifically:
- Up to 100% of the family leave contribution (0.18%) can be withheld from a covered employee’s wages
- Up to 40% of the medical leave contribution (0.28%) can be withheld from a covered employee’s wages, while employers must contribute the remaining 60% (0.42%)
For exempt employers with 25 covered individuals or fewer, you must withhold and submit a contribution of 0.46% of eligible wages. However, you don’t need to pay an employer share.
Do you have employees asking you about how much they’ll receive from their MA PFML benefits?
The amount an individual is eligible to receive is calculated based on their individual average weekly wage (IAWW), the average weekly wage for MA workers, their benefit year, and the type of leave they’re taking. In 2024, this amount is capped at a maximum weekly benefit amount of $1,149.90.
If an individual:
- Receives unemployment or worker’s compensation benefits
- Uses leave that crosses benefit years
- Works part-time or takes reduced/intermittent leave
It could impact their leave benefits.
The DFML reevaluates the average weekly wage in MA each October. The new maximum benefit amount begins on January 1 of the following year.
The benefit year:
- Is a rolling calendar of 52 weeks
- Starts on the first week that an individual takes leave through any program
- Is calculated on weeks beginning on Sundays
For example, if an employee starts their leave on a Wednesday, their benefit year starts the Sunday before starting your PFML, which is the beginning of that week.
The individual’s benefit year determines their benefit rate, which stays the same for the whole benefit year, even if they submit multiple applications or take different types of leave. This rate only changes when they start a new benefit year.
7-Day Waiting Period
There is a seven-day waiting period before an employee can receive the weekly benefit amount. This week is unpaid and counts against their total available leave for the benefit year. For example, if they’re approved for 10 weeks of PFML, they’ll receive 9 weeks of paid benefits.
If the employee is approved for intermittent leave, the waiting period will be seven consecutive days after their leave begins, whether they take leave on those days or not.
This waiting period applies for each instance of paid leave, with one exception: A new mother takes medical leave either during pregnancy or to recover from childbirth. They then choose to take family leave to bond with a child immediately after the medical leave. There will be a waiting period for their medical leave, but it will be waived for the family leave.
Employees can use accrued paid time off (PTO) during the waiting period, but employers cannot require staff to use PTO during this time. If they opt to use PTO, they will need to:
- Use it over a continuous, uninterrupted block of time before or after their PFML benefits start or end date
- Use it only once during their leave period
- Come to an agreement with the employer on their PTO and schedule before their leave starts
- You’re approved for 10 weeks of PFML and use 1 week of PTO. You will receive your full salary during the waiting week and 9 weeks of paid benefits from the DFML.
- If you choose to use 2 weeks of PTO at the beginning of your 10-week leave, you will receive your full salary during that time. You’ll then receive 8 weeks of PFML.
When can employees use it?
Employees can take advantage of MA PFML for:
- Up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave to care for their own serious health condition
- Up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to bond with a child during the first 12 months after birth, adoption, or foster care placement
- Up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to manage affairs while a family member is on active duty
- Up to 26 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member who suffered an injury or illness while serving in the armed forces
- Up to 12 weeks to care for a family member with a serious illness, injury, or pregnancy/childbirth
A serious health condition is a physical or mental condition that prevents the individual from doing their job for more than three consecutive full calendar days and requires one of the following:
- Two or more treatments by a healthcare provider (in-person or telehealth visit) within 30 days of an inability to perform their duties
- Overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or medical facility
- At least one treatment by a healthcare provider within 30 days of an inability to perform their duties, with plans for continued treatment, including prescriptions
Learn more about what types of health conditions are covered from the Mass.gov PFML benefits guide.
What does the application and review process involve?
Encourage employees to talk to management and HR to find out if they’re covered and provide notice of their need to take leave. Employees can apply for paid leave up to 60 days before when their leave would start but request that they give you at least 30 days’ notice, if possible.
Next, they must apply for PFML directly through the DFML, which determines their eligibility and administers PFML. Employees should prepare key information and documentation for their application, including:
- Reason for leave
- The date they notified you (the employer) that they need to take leave
- The date they are planning to take leave or when it started
- A copy of their ID (e.g., driver’s license or state ID) to send via online or mail
- Bank account information
- Phone number that can receive text messages
- Information from a certified health care provider about the serious medical condition the employee or their family member is experiencing
- Your employer identification number (EIN)
- Information about their child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement, if applicable
Here’s what happens when an employee applies:
- Before reviewing MA PFML applications, you will need to create a PFML employer account and register as a verified leave administrator.
- You receive an email notification from the DFML when an employee submits an application.
- You will then confirm whether the employee has available PFML for the type of leave requested, how much PFML they have remaining in the benefit year, their work pattern or hours, and if any of the details provided indicate fraud.
- You’ll have 10 business days to review the employee’s application and respond to the DFML with the requested information. If you fail to respond promptly, the DFML will proceed with the application using only the information the employee provided.
What does the new “topping off” legislation say?
Employees who apply for MA PFML after November 1, 2023, can supplement or “top off” this benefit with their accrued vacation, sick, or other paid leave under their employer’s policy. Those who filed or started their leave prior to this date do not qualify to supplement their PFML pay.
Is there a limit?
Yes, an employee may top off their weekly PFML benefit with their accrued PTO up to their IAWW. For example, if an employee with an IAWW of $1,500 receives $1,100 per week in PFML, they can use up to $400 per week from their banked PTO.
Note that as the employer, you are responsible for managing PFML benefits and ensuring they do not exceed the employee’s IAWW. If an employee receives too much, you’ll need to work with them to manage those repayments. The DFML does not handle overpayments.
What is the Individual Average Weekly Wage?
The DFML determines an employee’s IAWW based on how much they’ve earned in the last four calendar quarters prior to the start of their benefit year. More specifically, the DFML looks at the two quarters when the employee earned the most (or the one quarter when they made the most if they only worked two quarters or less). Their IAWW is the average amount they earned per week in those two quarters.
You can calculate an employee’s weekly PFML benefit amount and IAWW if you have a registered Leave Administrator. You can’t access this information without registering—which you must do to remain compliant with PFML requirements and ensure employees receive the correct amount.
Does it matter what kind of leave is used to top off?
This depends on your company’s PTO policies. For example, an employee most likely could not use paid sick leave to supplement their family bonding leave benefits if your sick leave policy doesn’t allow this. This applies as long as your existing PTO policies don’t discriminate and inhibit an employee’s rights under the PFML program.
What if we provide unlimited PTO and/or holiday pay?
This is another instance where you’ll have to check your PTO policies. We know, it’s not a straight answer—but unfortunately, it’s not so black and white. Remember, employees can use any accrued paid leave provided under their policy.
When it comes to unlimited PTO, this could depend on how/if your organization tracks employees’ accruals.
What if you provide holiday pay, and an employee is out on leave when a holiday occurs? Again, refer to your policy to determine if they can use the holiday pay to top off their PFML benefits.
All of the above are subject to your PTO policies, provided they don’t discriminate against an employee for taking advantage of their rights under the PFML program.
How can employers manage the use of topping off with employees?
To successfully manage the process of topping off MA PFML with your employees, keep these tips in mind:
- To calculate an employee’s top-off amount, use this simple formula: IAWW – PFML benefit amount = max they can receive using their PTO
- You and the employee do not need to report how much they use for topping off. Keep them updated on what leave they can use and when, and remind them they don’t need to report this on their PFML application.
- Let them know that topping off their PFML payments will NOT impact their weekly benefit amount.
- Employers have the option to set a smallest increment of leave use policy. In other words, you may establish the smallest increments of leave an employee can take. The DFML’s will pay intermittent PFML benefits for as low as 15-minute increments.
Are you a Bay State employer with questions about MA PFML eligibility, how the benefit works, the application process, or the new topping off allowance? Contact BlueLion for guidance at email@example.com or 603-818-4131. Our human resource experts will be happy to walk you and your team through the process to ensure you handle the benefit properly.
The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.
This article was originally published in June 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.