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All Massachusetts Workers Soon Eligible For Paid Family And Medical Leave

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signs the paid family leave law in 2018.
File Photo
MassLive / MassLive.com/photos
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signs the paid family leave law in 2018.

Starting in January, Massachusetts workers are eligible to take paid time off to bond with a new child or to recover from a long illness.

The state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 2018. Since October 2019, a small payroll tax on employees and employers began to pay for the benefit. Next month, workers can begin using it.

The new law allows up to 12 weeks of paid leave after a birth or adoption, and up to 20 weeks for a serious health condition.

Andrew Farnitano is with the group Raise Up Massachusetts, which pushed for the law. He said the new benefits build upon federal family leave, which is unpaid and only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees.

“This new state program will cover all workers no matter what size your employer is. And there's even a provision for self-employed workers,” Farnitano said.

Parents are eligible for the benefit for 12 months after the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, so some people can still take time off in 2021 even if the child arrived in 2020.

Starting in July, workers will also get paid time off to care for a sick family member.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts initially supported the law, as part of a negotiation with advocacy groups. But General Counsel Ryan Kearney said rolling out the benefit during the pandemic could mean additional costs for businesses, such as reprinting policy handbooks or hiring replacement workers beyond what the benefit reimburses.

If there is a rush on benefits, Kearney said, it could lead to a higher payroll tax next year.

“A lot of these businesses that are subject to these cost increases are struggling and really trying to recover from the recent pandemic and the related government shutdowns,” Kearney said.

Since the new law has a seven-day waiting period for benefits, it won’t cover short-term illnesses – including many cases of COVID-19.

“So it won't be a huge help to low-wage workers who were being told to come into work even and after they may have been exposed and need that pay that day,” Farnitano said.

However, it should cover people with long-lasting COVID symptoms, which Farnitano said is a boon to workers.

But that’s what concerns Kearney of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

“Businesses are really trying to figure out what the scope of that actually is. So how many people are actually going to have complications with the coronavirus that are going to amount to a serious health condition?” Kearney said. ”And what impact that has on business.”

Kearney said many retailers are already worried about the hike in the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour, plus increases in health insurance and unemployment taxes.

Farnitano, of Raise Up Massachusetts, said several other states already have similar family and medical leave policies in place and have not had trouble paying out benefits during COVID.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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