Major Changes to Massachusetts Family & Medical Leave Programs
On June 28th, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed House Bill 4640 which will create one of the country’s strongest family and medical leave programs.
This new program will provide participating employees with the ability to take paid leave for up to 12 weeks a year to care for a family member or to bond with a new child, 20 weeks a year to deal with a personal medical issue and up to 26 weeks to manage an emergency related to a family member’s military service deployment. Benefit amounts will be calculated as a percentage of the employee’s wages with a maximum weekly benefit of $850. Self-employed people will be able to opt into the program.
The funding for this paid leave would come from a payroll deduction paid by both employers and employees, similar to the system used to underwrite unemployment benefits.
In passing this legislation, Massachusetts joins states like California, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey which already have paid family and medical leave. When California mandated paid parental leave 10 years ago the business community fought the initiative, however “contrary to the dire predictions of opponents, the policy has turned out to be overwhelmingly popular and 90% of employers say it has had a positive effect or no effect on their companies.”
It has been left up to the States to legislate paid family leave because the United States is one of only four countries in the world (Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua, New Guinea are the others) without any paid parental leave.
The model for the Massachusetts paid family leave program was the result of intense negotiations between Raise Up Massachusetts (a coalition of community, religious and labor organizations) and business groups including the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Boston and Springfield Chambers of Commerce.
“I am very excited and pleased where we ended up on paid family and medical leave. It is a program that will be very strong to workers, especially low income workers who never had this benefit before,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “It also addresses the concerns of the business community, and will be affordable for employers and employees.”
In this era of legislative dysfunction and partisan gridlock it is encouraging to see state officials and the business community come together to ensure that Massachusetts employees won’t have to choose between working and paying their bills and caring for their families during critical periods.