October 25, 2022
FMLA vs. PFL: What’s the Difference?

As an employer, you’re familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993, to provide unpaid leave and job security to workers who need time off to care for a new baby or sick family member. 

Now, more and more states are implementing paid family and medical leave (PFML) to provide employees with a paid leave option when they need time off work for similar reasons.

While the main difference between FMLA and PFML is the “paid” part, there are a few other differences between the programs. Not to mention, PFML laws differ by state. 

Check out our quick and easy breakdown to clarify FMLA vs. PFL!

What is FMLA?

FMLA is a federal law that mandates covered businesses across the country to provide employees with unpaid leave.

What businesses are covered?

FMLA requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide all eligible employees with unpaid leave. This includes private employers, public agencies, and private or public elementary/secondary schools nationwide.

Which employees are eligible?

Employees who have been with the employer for 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours over that time qualify for unpaid leave through FMLA.

How long is FMLA?

Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a calendar year to care for family or medical reasons. Those caring for a family member in the military can take up to 26 weeks of leave.

What does FMLA leave cover?

Employees can use FMLA for:

  • The birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child
  • The care of a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • A severe personal health condition that prevents the employee from doing their job
  • A situation that requires attention due to the military deployment of a spouse, child, or parent

What are the employer’s responsibilities?

Since FMLA is unpaid, there are no payroll deductions. Employers must simply guarantee an employee their previous position or a similar role and compensation upon return from FMLA. They must also continue providing the same health insurance the employee had before taking leave.

What is PFML?

Paid family and medical leave (PFML), also known as paid family leave (PFL), is a state-mandated law that, as the name implies, provides paid leave to qualified employees for family and medical reasons. 

Each state develops its own program, so details vary from one state to the next. Now, even certain cities, such as San Francisco, are implementing specific PFML laws.

Find out which states currently have mandated and voluntary PFML programs.

What businesses are covered?

Typically, each state has one law regarding paid family and medical leave. The requirements vary.

For example, the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave states that all Bay State businesses may be subject to PFML law, even if they’re not subject to FMLA. A company can apply for exemption if they provide benefits equal to or greater than PFML benefits and, if approved, do not have to make PFML contributions.

Then there is Connecticut, whose PFMLA law covers all employers with one or more employees. 

Which employees are eligible?

Employee eligibility and definition of family members also vary from state to state. This typically depends on how long they’ve worked for the company and if they’ve reached the wage earnings threshold—numbers that also vary by state. 

There could also be specific rules based on worker classification, including:

  • Full-time employees
  • Part-time and seasonal workers
  • Self-employed individuals (i.e., independent contractors and sole proprietors)
  • Out-of-state employees
  • Public employees
  • Domestic workers

How long is PFL?

Again, this differs in each state’s law, ranging from two to 30 weeks in a single year.

In Massachusetts, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave, or up to 26 weeks of combined PFML in a year.

Connecticut’s CTPL program provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave. Those who experience a severe health condition during pregnancy, leaving them incapacitated, may qualify employees for an additional two weeks of paid leave. Paid leave benefits may be taken as consecutive days and weeks and, in some circumstances, intermittently.

What does paid family and medical leave cover?

Generally, paid family and medical leave laws cover the following:

  • Paid family leave: For the employee to bond with a new child or care for sick family members
  • Paid medical leave: For the employee to care for their own severe illness

As with most of the details, coverage specifics also differ by state.

The United States does not have a federal parental leave law, and many employers still don’t offer parental leave, so parents often use PFML as their parental leave.

While some states, like Connecticut, include specific coverage for pregnant employees, this is not always the case. Pregnant individuals might need to combine vacation, sick, holiday, personal, short-term disability coverage, and/or unpaid leave. This will depend on their employer’s PTO policy.

How much are PFL wages?

Every state sets a wage replacement percentage and maximum, which—you guessed it—varies! This rate could range from 40% to over 100%, and maximums also range widely. Some states even base it on minimum wage versus state average weekly earnings. 

Often, PFML laws provide low-wage earners with higher wage replacements and middle or high-wage earners with lower wage replacements.

Who pays for PFML?

Once again, depending on the state’s PFML law, the employer, employees, or both could be responsible for paying into a paid leave fund. Usually, it’s a combination of both employer and employee contributions.

Employers are also responsible for deducting the required percentage from workers’ wages as post-tax contributions (i.e., remember to withhold taxes from employees’ pay before deducting state premiums.

Understanding FMLA vs. PFL

The most significant difference to remember when understanding FMLA vs. PFL is that one is unpaid and paid! 

Of course, the laws are a bit more nuanced than that. With 13 states currently requiring or implementing PFML programs, it is increasingly important for employers to stay on top of their local laws. Some are mandated, and others are mandatory. Every program varies when it comes to:

  • Employer and employee eligibility
  • Qualifying reasons
  • Duration
  • Definition of a family member
  • Funding requirements
  • Wage replacement amount

We get it—understanding FMLA and PFL laws can be a tad overwhelming. If you have questions about your local laws and how they apply to your business, BlueLion has answers! Contact us today at 603-818-4131 or info@bluelionllc.com

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.