Eligible employees in Massachusetts may be entitled to leave under not just one, but at least two, family leave laws. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that applies in all 50 states, while the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFML) only applies to employees in Massachusetts.

Both laws address some of the same situations, but there are key differences between them that employers and employees need to know. Here’s how to navigate FMLA in Massachusetts, and how to know which type of leave applies to your situation.

What Is FMLA in Massachusetts?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a type of unpaid, job-protected leave that allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period for a limited set of qualifying situations. These include:

  • The birth of a new child
  • The adoption of a child
  • The placement of a child into foster care
  • To care for a seriously ill family member
  • To care for a covered service member of the Armed Forces
  • To handle a qualifying exigency related to active duty military service
  • To address the employee’s own serious health condition

The only unpaid leave policy in Massachusetts is the FMLA, unless the employer offers a more generous paid leave policy.

Employees may also be allowed to draw from their accrued sick leave or vacation time, or qualify for the Massachusetts Paid Family Leave program.

Regardless, they’re entitled to keep their health insurance while on FMLA leave and return to the same job or an equivalent position when the leave period is over.

Who Is Eligible for FMLA in Massachusetts?

Not all Massachusetts employees will meet the eligibility requirements for FMLA, even if they have a qualifying reason for taking leave. That’s because they need to work for a “covered employer” in one of these three categories:

  • A government agency (federal, local, or state)
  • A public or private school (secondary or elementary)
  • A private-sector employer with at least 50 employees

Massachusetts employers with fewer than 50 employees aren’t required to provide any leave time under FMLA, but they may be covered by the state’s PFML law.

Eligible employees must also meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months
  • Have accrued at least 1,250 hours of employment in the previous year
  • Be employed at a location with at least 50 other employees within 75 miles

An employee may request intermittent leave, or have multiple reasons for leave in the same calendar year, as long as they don’t exceed 12 weeks of leave in 12 months.

How Does Military Caregiver Leave Work?

Military caregiver leave is the one exception to the 12-week maximum. Employees who qualify for this type of leave can take up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor at DOL.gov, the service member must be an immediate family member or next of kin, which may include a grandparent, first cousin, spouse, child, parent, or sibling of the employee.

They can be either an active duty service member or veteran, as long as the reason for care is related to a serious injury or illness sustained in the course of duty.

What About Temp Workers and Independent Contractors?

FMLA leave benefits apply to both full-time and part-time employees, and periods of employment don’t need to be consecutive in order to count towards eligibility. This means that temporary and seasonal workers may still qualify for FMLA.

If an employee has multiple jobs, whether or not FMLA applies will depend on whether an employer is their primary or secondary employer. 

Independent contractors typically aren’t covered under FMLA in Massachusetts — but they may qualify for PFML under state law.

Other Family Leave Laws in Massachusetts

FMLA Massachusetts: woman taking care of her grandmother

In many states in the U.S., the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is the only option if an employee needs to take time off for family or medical reasons. But Massachusetts is one of a handful of states with its own paid family and medical leave program.

Whether or not they qualify for FMLA, Massachusetts employees may still be eligible for leave under one of the following state laws:

Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML)

The Paid Family and Medical Leave program is the closest equivalent to FMLA in Massachusetts, but it would be a mistake to think that these two laws are identical.

Under PFML, employees can take up to:

  • 12 weeks of leave to bond with a child or care for a sick family member
  • 20 weeks of leave to address their own serious health condition
  • 26 weeks of leave to care for a covered service member

PFML also has a more expansive definition of “family member” than FMLA: siblings, grandparents, domestic partners, and in-laws are all covered.

The biggest difference is that PFML leave is paid, with a maximum benefit amount of $1,129.82 per week. Since PFML is administered by the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML), it isn’t limited to “covered employers” with more than 50 employees. In fact, it even extends to:

  • Self-employed workers who have opted in via MassTaxConnect
  • Independent contractors (if they make up a majority of the workforce)
  • Recently unemployment individuals who qualify for unemployment insurance

If an employee qualifies for leave under both PFML and FMLA in Massachusetts, then both laws apply concurrently, not back-to-back.

Parental Leave Law

Another option that may be available to employees who don’t qualify for FMLA is the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act. Although FMLA does cover parental leave, it only applies if the employer has more than 50 employees, and if the employee has worked there for 12 months or more.

The Parental Leave Act kicks in once the employee has finished their probationary period, or after three months of full-time work. Any Massachusetts employer with at least six employees is required to provide up to 8 weeks of parental leave.

Parents of any gender can request leave to bond with a newborn child, adopt a child under 18, or adopt a child with mental or physical disabilities who is under 23.

Small Necessities Leave Act

Employees who are eligible for FMLA in Massachusetts also have rights under the Small Necessities Leave Act. Although the amount of leave available under this act is small — only 24 hours per 12-month period — it covers situations that don’t meet the “serious” injury or illness criteria for FMLA. This includes:

  • Attending a parent-teacher conference or other school activities
  • Taking a child to an appointment with a health care provider
  • Assisting an elderly family member with appointments

As with FMLA, the employer has the right to ask for verification of the reason for leave, as long as it isn’t “unduly burdensome” on the employee.

Digitize Leave of Absence Requests With Pulpstream

Injured man using his phone

Employees in Massachusetts have multiple protections when it comes to medical and parental leave. Depending on the reason for leave, they may qualify for unpaid leave under FMLA, or paid leave under the MA Paid Family and Medical Leave Act.

It’s up to the employer to determine which medical leave benefits apply, and to keep track of any sick time the employee uses. Pulpstream makes it easy to navigate the leave of absence process with our no-code LOA management platform.

Employees can submit leave requests and documentation using an online portal, and your HR team can monitor the employee’s leave balance and streamline the return to work process. Contact us today to request a demo and learn more!