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Guide Family and Medical Leave Options (FMLA and PFML) for Commonwealth Employees

This Guide applies only to Executive Department employees.

The federal law, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), provides up to 12 unpaid weeks of job-protected leave each benefit year for employees experiencing specified family and medical reasons.

The statewide Paid Family and Medical Leave program (PFML) provides eligible employees with up to a combined total of 26 weeks of job protection and temporary income replacement each benefit year for certain family and medical reasons.

The Commonwealth offers its Executive Department employees more generous family and medical leave benefits with up to 26 weeks of leave per benefit year for certain reasons plus a once-in-a lifetime additional 26 weeks of catastrophic medical leave for an employee’s own health condition. We also follow the state parental leave law. Where an employee’s situation qualifies for multiple types of leave benefits, those leave benefits run concurrently.

Employees should refer to their collective bargaining agreement or the Red Book for the specific amount of leave time available for each qualifying condition.

Table of Contents

Brief Overview of Family and Medical Leave Options at the Commonwealth

The Basics

Qualifying reasons for which an employee can take FMLA or PFML leave include: 

  • Birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child 
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job 
  • To care for a family member with a serious health condition 
  • To care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness (employee's spouse, child, parent, or next of kin) 
  • For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that an employee's family member is on active military duty or call to covered active duty status 

How to Apply

Employees with a qualifying reason for leave should notify their agency Human Resources (HR) department 30 days in advance of the leave if feasible. Otherwise you need to notify your HR department as soon as you become aware that you will need to take a leave. 

An agency’s HR department will conduct an intake session with the employee to determine the available options for job-protected leave. During the intake session, agency HR will also gather information about the leave request and inform the employee as to what information is necessary to approve and manage the employee’s leave. Agency HR can also answer questions about accruals available to the employee and how employees can apply to the DFML for benefits. Employees will be expected to provide information to their agency HR within 15 days of this notification.  

Pay

Under the federal law, FMLA is an unpaid leave, unless the employee has leave accruals or is eligible for another program that would allow the employee to be paid by the Commonwealth while absent due to a serious health condition. 

During a PFML leave, an employee has the option to apply for temporary wage replacement benefits from the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML), which would provide a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wage.

Alternatively, the employee can opt to receive their regular pay by using their leave accruals or, if eligible, another program that would allow the employee to be paid by the Commonwealth while absent due to a serious health condition. It’s important to note that when approved to receive a wage replacement benefit from the DFML, the employee cannot receive pay from the Commonwealth, as an employer, for the same period of time. 

Additional Resources for Brief Overview of Family and Medical Leave Options at the Commonwealth

The Definition of 'Family Member' under FMLA and PFML

The PFML law has a broader definition of “family member” than does FMLA.

FMLA and PFML
Under both laws, employees may take leave to care for the following family members who have a serious health condition: 
  • Spouse
  • Child (biological, adopted, foster child, stepchild,  legal ward and a child to whom the covered individual stands or stood in loco parentis)
  • Parent (biological, adoptive, step or foster mother or father of the covered individual)

 

PFML only
Under PFML, employees also may take leave to care for the following family members who have a serious health condition: 
  • Domestic partner 
  • Parent of spouse or parent of domestic partner 
  • Person who stood in loco parentis to the covered individual when the covered individual was a minor child
  • Grandchild  
  • Grandparent (parent of the covered individual’s parent)
  • Sibling (the biological, adoptive, step-brother or sister of the covered individual)

Eligibility Criteria

The eligibility criteria for employees to take family and medical leave is largely the same, regardless of the underlying reason for leave: 

  • Employees who pass their probationary period become eligible to take family or medical leave under their collective bargaining agreement.  

  • Employees who do not have a probationary period become eligible to take family and medical leave under the Red Book once they complete at least three (3) consecutive months of service or are eligible for PFML. 

  • Employees will be eligible for leave under the PFML when they meet the Department of Family and Medical Leave’s (DFML) financial eligibility test.

Leave for Birth, Adoption, or Foster Care Placement

For the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child, employees may qualify for FMLA leave, PFML leave, and/or leave covered by the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act (MPLA), MGL c. 149 sec. 105D. In most circumstances, FMLA, PFML, and MPLA will run concurrently if the employee is eligible for multiple types of leave.

Employees who take FMLA or PFML leave for this reason will be eligible for 10 paid parental leave days. Otherwise, this is an unpaid leave unless the employee utilizes their leave accruals to remain on the payroll. However, SERV volunteer time may be used for certain activities related to a foster care placement.

Under the FMLA, PFML, and MPLA laws, employees are entitled to return to the same or equivalent position at the conclusion of the leave and have their health insurance maintained at the same level as if they had not been on leave.

In order to take this leave, your agency may ask for documentation such as a birth certificate, adoption papers or the agreement with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or court order for a foster care placement. The documentation requirements and deadlines for submitting your documentation will be explained to you by your HR department during your intake session.

Leave for Employee's Own Illness

Overview

If an employee has a serious health condition of their own that incapacitates them from performing their job, they qualify for FMLA and/or PFML leave. In most circumstances, FMLA and PFML will run concurrently if the employee is eligible for both types of leave.

When an employee requests a medical leave covered by FMLA and/or PFML or their agency has reason to believe their absences are for a serious health condition, the employee will be asked to provide a healthcare (medical)certification to support a need for leave and have it designated as FMLA and/or PFML leave.  

FMLA and PFML leave can be taken on a continuous or intermittent basis if medically necessary, as demonstrated in the healthcare certification. The documentation requirements and deadlines for submitting documentation will be explained to employees by their HR department during the intake session. Generally, employees will have 15 days to provide a completed medical certification to their agency. 

While on leave, employees will have their health insurance maintained at the same level as if they had not been on leave. At the conclusion of leave employees are entitled to return to the same or equivalent position. 

Serious Health Condition

Not all absences due to illness or injury qualify as leave covered by the FMLA law or PFML program. The following circumstances could be considered covered by FMLA or PFML:

  • Inpatient hospital care (including an overnight stay)

  • Incapacity for more than 3 consecutive days and subsequent treatment

  • Incapacity caused by pregnancy or for routine prenatal care

  • Permanent or long-term conditions

  • Chronic conditions

  • Conditions requiring multiple treatments

Compensation

There is no restriction on the amount of accrued all sick, vacation, personal, and compensatory balances that an employee can use for their own illness under the FMLA and PFML. However, if the employee is collecting wage replacement benefits from the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) during a PFML leave, then the employee cannot receive pay from their agency for the same period of time.

All or part of the leave may also be unpaid but the employee still has the job protection of an FMLA or PFML leave.

Employees may also be able to use one or more of the following types of wage replacement benefits during their approved leave: 

  • Extended Illness Leave Bank (EILB) if a member

  • Workers' compensation or injured by patient or prisoner benefits if work-related injury or illness

  • Short-term disability (if enrolled)

  • Long-term disability (if enrolled)

Leave for Family Member Illness (unrelated to Military Service)

Overview

If an employee has a family member with a serious health condition who requires care from the employee due to that condition, then the employee may qualify for FMLA and/or PFML leave. Please see section above for more information about what family members are covered by FMLA and PFML. In most circumstances, FMLA and PFML will run concurrently if the employee is eligible for both types of leave.

When an employee needs to take a leave of absence, a healthcare certification will need to be completed by the patient’s healthcare provider and submitted to the agency HR department. The documentation requirements and deadlines for submitting documentation will be explained to the employee by their HR department during the intake session. Generally, employees will have 15 days to provide a completed medical certification to their agency. 

The healthcare (medical) certification must support that a family member needs personal or physical assistance or psychological support from the employee. Leave for this reason can be taken on a continuous or intermittent basis. 

While on leave, employees will have their health insurance maintained at the same level as if they had not been on leave. At the conclusion of leave employees are entitled to return to the same or equivalent position.

Serious Health Condition

Not all absences due to illness or injury qualify as leave covered by the FMLA law or PFML program. The following treatments could be considered covered by FMLA or PFML: 

  • Inpatient hospital care (including an overnight stay) 

  • Incapacity for more than 3 consecutive days and subsequent treatment 

  • Incapacity caused by pregnancy or for routine prenatal care 

  • Permanent or long-term conditions 

  • Chronic conditions 

  • Conditions requiring multiple treatments

Compensation

There are annual limits to the number of accrued sick days (usually 60 days per calendar year) that an employee can use for family illness.

There is no restriction on the amount of accrued all vacation, personal, and compensatory balances that an employee can use for the care of a family member under the FMLA and PFML. However, if the employee is collecting wage replacement benefits from the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) during a PFML leave, then the employee cannot receive pay from their agency for the same period of time.

All or part of the leave may also be unpaid but the employee still has the job protection of an FMLA or PFML leave.

Leave for Family Member Illness (Military-related)

Overview

The FMLA law and PFML program allow eligible employees to take job-protected leave to care for a covered military service member or certain veterans with a service-related serious injury or illness. Leave can be taken on a continuous or intermittent basis. 

If an employee has a family member who is a current servicemember or a veteran with a service-related illness or injury and requires care from the employee due to that condition, then the employee may qualify for FMLA and/or PFML leave. Please see section above for more information about what family members are covered by FMLA and PFML.  

Employees may take up to 26 weeks of FMLA Lleave and up to 26 weeks of PFML leave per benefit year to care for a relatives family member with a military-related illness/injury. In most circumstances, FMLA and PFML will run concurrently if the employee is eligible for both types of leave. 

While on leave, employees will have their health insurance maintained at the same level as if they had not been on leave. At the conclusion of leave employees are entitled to return to the same or equivalent position.

Serious Illness or Injury

An employee is able to request FMLA or PFML leave if their family member or next of kin is a current servicemember or veteran who has a serious injury or illness that was incurred in the line of duty that caused the family member to be medically unfit to perform regular military duties. 

In addition employees who are family members of veterans qualify for FMLA or PFML leave if of the veteran has a service-related mental or physical condition that: 

  • significantly impairs their ability to work; or 
  • led to a 50% disability rating from U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA); or 
  • cause person to be enrolled in the VA's Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program 

Compensation

There are annual limits to the number of accrued sick days (usually  60 days per calendar year) that an employee can use for family illness.  

There is no restriction on the amount of accrued all vacation, personal, and compensatory balances that an employee can use for the care of a family member under the FMLA and PFML. However, if the employee is approved to receive a wage replacement benefit from the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) during a PFML leave, then the employee cannot receive pay from their agency for the same period of time.  

All or part of the leave may also be unpaid but the employee still has the job protection of an FMLA or PFML leave. 

Military Exigency Leave

Overview

One reason employees can take FMLA or PFML leave is for any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that their family member is on active military duty or called to covered active duty status. Please see section above for more information about what family members are covered by FMLA and PFML. In most circumstances, FMLA and PFML will run concurrently if the employee is eligible for both types of leave. 

The leave can be taken intermittently for up to 12 weeks per benefit year.. While on leave, employees will have their health insurance maintained at the same level as if they had not been on leave. At the conclusion of leave employees are entitled to return to the same or equivalent position.  

If there are children in the family, a deployment may create new issues such as childcare changes or school meetings. The employee not deployed may have additional financial or legal responsibilities so this time is allowed for the home life to be as normal as possible while allowing for a short period of adjustment without having to be at work full-time.  

Qualifying Reasons

Situations (exigencies) that may be covered under the FMLA and PFML include: 

  • Short-notice deployment 
  • Military events and related activities 
  • Childcare related and school activities 
  • Financial and legal arrangements 
  • Counseling 
  • Rest and recuperation 
  • Post-deployment activities 
  • Some additional activities 

Compensation

The employee may only use sick time if the time is spent to attend counseling. 

There is no restriction on the amount of accrued all vacation, personal, and compensatory balances that an employee can use for the care of a family member under the FMLA and PFML. However, if the employee is collecting wage replacement benefits from the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) during a PFML leave, then the employee cannot receive pay from their agency for the same period of time.  

All or part of the leave may also be unpaid but the employee still has the job protection of an FMLA or PFML leave.

More Absence and Leave Policies

Employees may qualify to use paid or unpaid leave time when they are absent from work on a short-term or long-term basis for a number of specific reasons beyond the Family and Medical Leave options (FMLA and PFML) for Commonwealth employees outlined on this page.

State employees are eligible for a variety of paid and unpaid time from work. Waiting periods may apply. Benefits may vary depending on whether you are a bargaining unit employee or a manager.

Learn more about these additional absence and leave policies.

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