Did you know the United States is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t offer a nationwide paid family and medical leave (PFML) or parental leave law?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) federally mandates and provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. However, FMLA time is unpaid, making it challenging for employees to take time off for critical needs like the birth of a new child, medical crisis, or caring for an ill family member.
Studies show that sufficient parental leave can help prevent depression and stress in new parents, lower the rate of infant and young child mortality, and encourage parental bonding. Plus, it helps with child development.
Unfortunately, since FMLA is unpaid, many people take less time off than they need or want to simply because they can’t afford it. Therefore, a growing number of states are introducing their own paid family and medical leave laws.
But these laws vary significantly from state to state, and it can be tough to keep up! That’s why we’re answering:
- What is PFML?
- Who pays for PFML?
- What the heck is the difference between PFML, FMLA, and sick leave?
- Which states have PFML laws?
By the end, you’ll have the information and resources to understand how PFML could affect your business and what you need to do to remain compliant.
What is paid family and medical leave (PFML)?
Referred to as paid family and medical leave (PFML) or paid family leave (PFL), this state-mandated law provides employees with paid family and medical leave.
While family and medical leave each fall under one law in most states (with some exceptions), they are defined as:
- Paid family leave: Time off for an employee to bond with a new child or care for ill family members
- Paid medical leave: Time off for an employee to care for their own serious illness
Many new parents use PFML in place of parental leave since the United States does not have a federal requirement, and many employers don’t yet offer a specific parental leave policy.
Although PFML allows time off to care for a new child, it does not always apply to pregnancy. A pregnant employee who needs time off typically needs to use a combination of sick days, vacation time, holiday time, personal days, short-term disability coverage, and/or unpaid family leave. It all depends on their employer’s PTO policies.
Who pays for PFML?
This is another specific requirement that varies by state law. Your state may require employees, employers, or both to contribute to a paid leave fund. Employees in states with PFML laws receive wages when they take time off for eligible reasons.
If your state or local PFML law requires employees and/or employers to contribute to a fund, you must deduct a percentage from eligible workers’ wages toward the fund. These are post-tax deductions, meaning you must withhold taxes from employees’ pay before deducting state premiums.
PFML, FMLA & Sick Leave: What’s the Difference?
There are many different leave laws, especially when broken down by state. Here’s a quick refresher of the difference between the types of leave.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The federally mandated FMLA requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide unpaid leave. It applies to qualifying businesses in all states, including private employers, public agencies, and private or public elementary/secondary schools. Eligible employees can take up to 26 work weeks of leave in one 12-month period.
FMLA covers time off for:
- The birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child
- The care of a spouse, child, or parent with a severe health condition
- A serious personal health condition that prevents an employee from doing their job
- A situation that requires attention because of the military deployment of a spouse, child, or parent
Because it is unpaid, there are no payroll deductions with FMLA leave. It also guarantees that employees will have their jobs when their leave ends.
Paid Sick Leave
Sick leave typically refers to short-term time off for health needs and preventive care. Some states and jurisdictions have specific paid sick leave laws.
For example, the Massachusetts sick leave law includes specific requirements regarding cap and rollover allowances, employer and employee notice requirements, documentation practices, and more. Other states with paid sick leave laws include California, Connecticut, Oregon, and Vermont. Each of these also has a PFML law except Vermont.
What states have PFML programs?
As more states institute PFML programs and requirements, employers must be careful to keep up with those that apply to them. States with paid family leave currently include:
- Colorado (effective 2023, available to employees 2024)
- Washington D.C.
- Delaware (effective 2025, available to employees 2026)
- Maryland (effective 2023, available to employees 2025)
- New Hampshire (voluntary program coming January 1, 2023)
- New Jersey
- New York
- Oregon (effective 2023)
- Rhode Island
Select cities, such as San Francisco, also have specific PFML laws. Then there are states with individual policies, like Vermont with its unpaid family leave law which covers more employers than the FMLA, and New Hampshire’s voluntary paid family leave starting next year.
Each PFML law varies regarding:
- Eligible reasons for paid leave
- Length of paid leave
- Who pays—employees, employers, or both
- Covered employer size (e.g., 50 or more employees)
- Qualifying employees
- Required contribution percentage
- PFML benefit amount (could be a percentage of the employee’s weekly salary, rate pertinent to the state minimum wage, and/or include a maximum weekly benefit)
For example, the Massachusetts PFML law lists specific leave allowances depending on the reason, along with many other particular rules.
Employers should post a notice of their PFML policy and state or local requirements in their workplace, along with their other labor law posters. It should also be in the employee handbook with all other company policies.
Know Your PFML Laws
With so many PFML laws in flux and states regularly expanding their rules, employers must stay updated on requirements that apply to their business.
You’ll also want to pay attention to laws as your company grows—if you reach a certain size, you may need to start providing PFML. This means you may need to create a fund, budget for employer contributions, and ensure you have systems in place to manage those contributions.
Do you need an audit of your PFML policy? Or are you putting a new PFML program in place? Whether you want to verify your organization’s compliance or you’re ready to level up employee benefits, BlueLion can help! Learn more about our outsourced HR services or contact us today at 603-818-4131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.