How FMLA Coordinates With PFML
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and paid family and medical leave (PFML) are separate ways employees can take leave covering similar situations. To date, PFML has only been enacted on the state level. Among those states, the details vary considerably.
Understanding the Differences
HR professionals have complex requirements for tracking state and federal leave laws.1 In addition to determining employee eligibility under a PFML program, eligible employees may also be entitled to take time off under FMLA.2 Both must be followed when federal and state mandates apply, or employers could face consequences from the agency that enforces that law. Tracking the differences between PFML and FMLA can be puzzling. Many states have initiated or passed legislation to offer paid medical and family leave to employees or another type of paid leave. Employers and employees are often left with questions about their options.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The FMLA is a United States labor law that allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons, without the risk of losing their job. Unlike some state-paid leave plans, employees do not have to pay anything to be protected by FMLA.
According to the U.S Department of Labor, the FMLA applies to all public agencies and to private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 work weeks in the current or proceeding calendar year. There are rules surrounding who qualifies for leave, typically based on hours worked, among other requirements.3
It is essential to understand that the FMLA only requires unpaid leave. This means employers must allow up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, protected time off for a qualified reason. However, the law permits employees to use other types of paid leave such as vacation in conjunction with FMLA. Some employers may require their employees to use any accrued paid vacation, sick, or other leave time during the FMLA leave period.
Short-term and long-term disability policies may be used if the leave is for a covered disability in conjunction with FMLA to help supplement lost income while an employee is eligible to work, depending on the policy’s specific terms and conditions.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
Some states are now offering some type of PFML, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Delaware, and Maryland. PFML usually takes the form of a state-offered benefit allowing a specified amount of paid leave for medical or family reasons and is separate from FMLA or other benefits offered by your employer. The eligibility requirements and benefit amounts vary by state. Because PFML provides paid benefits, most states benefits require either a voluntary or mandatory contribution to the state-paid plan before benefits can be claimed. In most cases, both the employer and employee will need to pay premiums for benefits.
Typically, employees are given an allotted bucket of time (for example - 16 weeks total) for qualified medical or family leave. If employees use all 16 weeks for medical leave, they do not have an additional 16 weeks for family leave. Though the qualifying purposes sometimes go beyond the FMLA, medical leave is typically used when employees experience a severe health condition that prevents them from working. Family leave is generally used when employees take time off to care for a family member with a serious health condition. If employees qualify for both PFML and FMLA for the same leave event, they may be required to take both leaves congruently.
In a state with current or pending PFML legislation, employers are still required to comply with the FMLA. It’s important to know the differences between the FMLA and state PFML programs so you can stay compliant. From eligibility requirements to the percentage of income an employee receives while on paid leave, state details vary greatly.6
How FMLA and PFML Benefits Can Coordinate
The specifics of how PFML programs work can vary by state, though they typically function by providing a weekly benefit payment that's a percentage of the worker's usual income during their leave.7 FMLA and PFML each have a maximum benefit period. Where leave is taken for a purpose that qualifies for both FMLA and the applicable PFML program, the time generally runs concurrently.8 For example, an employee who takes 12 weeks of FMLA while receiving income replacement under the state’s PFML program will use 12 weeks of available time under both programs. Where the PFML program allows leave for a purpose that does not qualify under the FMLA, keep in mind that your employee may have unpaid, job-protected time remaining under the FMLA even after they have exhausted their paid leave benefit.
Employers in states that provide PFML programs must carefully evaluate how to educate their employees on coordinating benefits to ensure they are not surprised by thinking they have a benefit remaining when they have used it.
How do States Determine PFML Eligibility?
All states require employees to have worked for a specified amount of time or earned a certain amount of money to be eligible for PFML benefits. Most private-sector and many public sector employees are covered. Coverage may apply to all employees who are also covered by state unemployment insurance, or the program may have different eligibility rules. In some states, public sector employers may be able to decide whether or not to participate in the state-run PFML program.9 The District of Columbia prorates the benefit for those who have worked for their employer for less than a year.10
How does paid time off and job security work in states with PFML?
Of the thirteen states with comprehensive PFML, California, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia do not incorporate job protection. In contrast, the others do, meaning that employees must return to their job or a similar position after qualifying leave is taken.11 In states without job protection within the PFML program, workers may still have protections under other state laws and FMLA. Although the state PFML program may pay employees, they must coordinate their time off with FMLA or other similar laws if they want job security.
The number of weeks of paid leave varies by state, as shown in the table below.12 Available weeks are calculated according to the maximum amount of time allotted in a 12-month period.
Job Protection and Time Off
HR personnel are tasked with understanding their states requirements along with FMLA and keeping track of how much time each employee has used. For example, in Rhode Island, an eligible employee who has taken four weeks of leave under the state’s PFML program for a reason that also qualifies under the FMLA will still have eight weeks of leave available under the federal FMLA.
Managing Leave is Complex
Administering and coordinating leaves of absence is one of the biggest fiscal and operational hurdles employers face. The biggest challenge is tracking and administering changing leave laws. Employers must be aware of each state or local mandate to fully comply.
Emily Young, American Fidelity’s Leave Manager, says, “There are many moving parts, and the employer needs to be able to track them all unless they use a third party that tracks for them. Each state with a paid leave law is processed differently and pay amounts are different as well. It can become overwhelming.”
American Fidelity will continue to monitor and communicate regulatory changes to help employers succeed in benefits management. Subscribe for updates at americanfidelity.com/leave.
This blog is up to date as of March 2022 and has not been updated for changes in the law, administration or current events.