BOSTON—Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) voted to pass legislation establishing a paid family and medical leave program for all Massachusetts workers. The bill creates a system for paid, job-protected leave for employees who must take time off from work to recover from their own serious health condition or to care for a new child or ill family member.
“This legislation would reaffirm basic rights for working families trying to care for themselves, a newborn or a sick loved one,” said Senator Eldridge. “It is long overdue that we support and lift up our hard working families to ensure that they are able to meet their financial obligations while taking leave and also keep the Commonwealth up to pace with other areas of this world that have successfully led on these important issues.”
“No person should have to choose between a paycheck and caring for a new baby or ill family member,” said Senator Dan Wolf (D-Harwich), Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “We preach family values and it is time that our laws reflect those values. I am proud the Massachusetts Senate took action today to provide this basic right to all workers in our Commonwealth.”
The Senate bill requires employers to offer employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave for family care and up to 26 weeks for temporary disability leave. Employees would be eligible for benefits after 1,250 hours of service for the employer, the current federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) standard.
“No one should have to choose between a paycheck and their own health or the wellbeing of their families,” said lead sponsor of the bill, Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Paid leave is a common sense benefit that workers in nearly every other country in the world receive. Most working families cannot afford unpaid leave – we may need to take time off from work, but our financial obligations don’t ever take time off. We have also heard from many Massachusetts businesses that it is in their competitive best interest to offer paid leave, in order to attract and retain the most talented workers.”
California, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island currently require employers to provide paid family and medical leave for their employees, a benefit that many Massachusetts businesses voluntarily offer. Businesses offering paid family and medical leave have reported less employee turnover and savings associated with recruiting and training new employees, as well as improved morale and productivity.
While certain Massachusetts workers currently have access to unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), nearly 40% of workers are not eligible. A 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report points to the inability to afford unpaid leave as the primary reason workers do not take full advantage of leave under FMLA.
The bill creates a Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, run by the Department of Family and Medical Leave within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, to administer paid leave benefits. Family care and temporary disability leave benefits would begin at 50% of an employee’s average weekly wage as of January 1, 2018 and increase to 70% in 2019 and 90% in 2020, with a maximum weekly benefit of $1,000. Employers and employees are anticipated to equally share the cost of contributions to the Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, although employers may opt to pay a greater share or the full amount of the contribution.
In addition, the bill protects and prevents retaliation against employees who use family or medical leave. Employees who take paid leave must be restored to their previous position, or to a substantially similar position, and they must remain eligible for previously accrued vacation time, sick time, bonuses, advancement or other employment benefits. Employers are also prohibited from requiring employees to exhaust rights to any sick, vacation or personal time prior to or while taking leave.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.