[co-author: Danielle Dillon, Law Clerk]
The Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave (the “Department”) has issued a number of changes relating to the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (“MAPFML”) since their last quarterly briefing. A number of these changes impact employers navigating MAPFML benefits. This post focuses on the latest updates the Department has issued. Our prior posts – here, here and here – detail the MAPFML program and employer responsibilities.
Decreased Contribution Rate.
The contribution rate for employers with 25 or more covered individuals has decreased from 0.75% of eligible wages down to 0.68% of eligible wages. The contribution can be split between covered individuals’ payroll or wage withholdings and employer contributions as described on the Department’s website.
Updated Average Weekly Wage and Maximum MAPFML Benefits.
Effective January 1, 2022, the new average weekly wage in Massachusetts is $1,694.24, up from $1,487.78 in 2021. The maximum MAPFML benefits an individual can receive in 2022 is $1,084.31, up from $850 in 2021. The MAPFML fact sheet on the Department’s website has been updated accordingly.
Annual Report Issued.
The Department has issued their annual report for Fiscal Year 2021, detailing information and data on applications for MAPFML benefits received between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2021. The annual report provides that the Department approved 43,440 applications and denied 9,989 applications. Medical leave accounted for 58.13% of applications, while family leave accounted for 41.81% of applications. There were no applications for leave to care for family members reflected in this annual report, given that this leave category became available on July 1, 2021, after the close of the reporting period. Overall, the demographic of applicants included more than twice as many women than men, and the largest share of applicants consisted of individuals in their 30s. The average weekly benefit was $705.98 for family leave and $699.00 for medical leave, and the average duration of leave was 53 days in total. As of June 30, 2021, there were 17,344 open cases.
Serious Health Certification Form Update.
The Department has updated the form that employees seeking medical leave need to submit to certify a serious health condition in order to include questions specific to pregnancy and childbirth. These questions focus on whether the serious health condition at issue is due to pregnancy, prenatal care, childbirth, or recovery time following birth. During pregnancy, any incapacity due to pregnancy or prenatal care satisfies the continuing treatment requirement for a serious health condition, whereas post-pregnancy, a serious health condition must involve at least one night of in-patient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider.
Updated Eligibility Requirements for Self-Employed Individuals.
The requirements that an individual has earned: (i) $5,100 during the last 4 completed calendar quarters; and (ii) at least 30 times more than the amount they would be eligible to receive each week from MAPFML benefits remains the same. However, the contribution rate requirement has changed. In Calendar Year 2022 (starting on January 1, 2022), before claiming benefits, self-employed individuals must pay the full 0.68% contribution rate for both family and medical leave for at least 2 of the last 4 completed calendar quarters, an adjustment from the 0.75% contribution rate for 2021.
Administrative Changes to the MAPFML Website.
Employees are now able to check on their application status through their paid leave account portal on the Department website. Additionally, the online resource center for employees has been updated to include English, Spanish and Portuguese translations of the materials. Lastly, workplace posters and notifications with updated information on 2022 contribution rates and benefit amounts will be available on November 1, 2021 for employer distribution.
Clarification on Overlapping Leave Benefits.
Lastly, the Department has updated the section explaining how other leave and benefits taken by employees may affect their MAPFML benefits. As a refresher, the benefits received and leave the employee may be eligible for may be reduced by any wage replacement or disability program in which the employee is enrolled. If the employee qualifies for unemployment benefits and paid leave, the amount of paid leave benefits may be reduced by the amount of unemployment benefits received. Similarly, if the employee has made a claim for worker’s compensation for the same injury for which they are requesting paid leave, the amount of paid leave they are eligible for would be reduced accordingly. If the employee is receiving benefits under Social Security Programs, whether Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Income, the amount of benefits they are eligible for may also be reduced. As for time off, an employee may not use Company-provided paid sick time and paid time off (PTO) while simultaneously receiving MAPFML benefits. Upon the start of MAPFML leave, there is a 7-day waiting period before payments start, during which employees may use PTO with no impact to MAPFML. Once MAPFML benefits begin, however, an employee may not use PTO, as doing so would cause MAPFML benefits to be reduced, and require the employee to reapply for MAPFML benefits. At the end of MAPFML leave, an employee may again use their available PTO.
Penalties for Companies Who Leave Private Plans.
The Department has provided guidance with respect to employers who initially received a private plan exemption effective prior to January 1, 2021 and who wish to switch to the public option. Employers in this group who terminate their private plan prior to the end of one “renewal cycle” (consisting of an “initial term” of four quarters and one “renewal cycle” of four quarters) must remit retroactive contributions back to the effective date of the original exemption. If an employer has gone through one complete renewal cycle (or has an initial exemption effective January 1, 2021 or later), the employer may terminate its private plan without owing retroactive contributions.