The Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program was enacted to provide partial wage replacement to employees on leave for specified family and medical reasons. It is funded through premiums paid by employers and employees. The Employment Security Department (Department) administers the program.
Employees are eligible for benefits under the PFML program after working at least 820 hours in a qualifying period.
An employee returning from PFML leave is entitled to be restored to a same or equivalent job when the following applies:
An employer must maintain the existing health benefits of an employee during PFML leave when otherwise required by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The FMLA provides eligible employees with unpaid leave, and generally requires maintenance of health benefits during leave. The FMLA applies to employees meeting work duration requirements for public employers or for private employers with 50 or more employees.
Small Business Grants.
Employers with 150 or fewer employees may be eligible for limited grants for wage-related costs or the costs of hiring a temporary worker due to an employee's PFML leave.
Limited alternate eligibility is provided for claims between January 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, for employees not meeting the existing hours worked threshold for 2020 or the first calendar quarter of 2021, through:
The alternate eligibility does not apply to employees that do not meet the existing hours worked threshold because of an employment separation due to misconduct or voluntary separations unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Small business grants for employee leaves taken under the alternate eligibility may not be funded from the family and medical leave insurance account.
An emergency clause and immediate effective date is provided.
(In support) The purpose of the PFML program was to provide broad access to workers in all types of work, and it is now clear it needs to expand. Expanding coverage would have a large positive impact compared to the cost, and is important to support infant bonding. The hours worked threshold disqualifies many workers who need paid leave, particularly after the shutdowns during this past year, and there is an urgent need for support. Moving to a wage-based threshold would make it less likely that certain temporary or part-time positions, such as in academia, lose out on benefits. Women and women of color have been disproportionately impacted and will experience a cumulative financial effect. Affinity relationships in caretaking within communities of color should be taken into account. Many vulnerable workers are afraid to take their entitled leave because they are not covered under the job protection provisions. Our state's program has been surpassed by other states with broader eligibility and application to family members. Paid family and medical leave levels the playing field for businesses competing for employees.
(Opposed) The PFML program was heavily negotiated and reflects a careful balance between costs to employers and benefits to employees. The definition of "family member" was a part of that balance. Under the bill, a family member could mean a variety of people depending on your relationships, and determining those boundaries is problematic. This bill was not brought before the PFML Advisory Committee and the business community was not consulted. The PFML law is new and not ready for this degree of changes. The program itself has not been fully implemented. For example, the grant programs for small businesses have not been available until recently. The costs of the continuation of health benefits alone could make it prohibitive to backfill an employee's absence, and the costs as a whole look like they will affect premiums and trigger a surcharge. To address issues related to the pandemic, temporary instead of blanket action should be considered. The wage-based threshold would not necessarily promote equity.
(In support) This bill would provide targeted relief and stimulus to the workforce, by allowing additional workers that would otherwise be denied benefits. That cash will then go back into the economy. Certain populations have been more affected by pandemic job loss than others. This bill provides modest changes that will be a large help in keeping people out of poverty and in their homes. The change in the definition of "family member" will have a minimal impact on the fund, but a large impact on those who need it. There are many caregiving roles for people that are the equivalent of family. It is important to be able to allow people to die with love and dignity.
(Opposed) There is support for the modification of the hours eligibility threshold on an emergent basis, but concern with the impact of changing the definition of "family member." The Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) program was heavily negotiated in its creation, and there needs to be more review of the ongoing impact of this change. This bill was not vetted through the PFML advisory committee. There are inconsistencies in the fiscal note with a similar proposal in the Senate, which requires far fewer full-time employees to implement. The differing numbers should be explored further.