Paid Family Leave Laws in 2021: How They Impact Your Company and What You Can Do to Manage Them

State Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) or Paid Family Leave (PFL) laws are constantly in flux. A new National Comp session will provide guidance. 
By: | February 19, 2021

State Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) or Paid Family Leave (PFL) laws are constantly in flux, creating a particularly difficult situation for those tasked with the administration of such benefits and remaining in compliance.

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In a new National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference virtual session, “Navigating the Maze of Paid Family Leave Laws: The Latest Decisions That Could Affect Your Company,” available on demand this February 23, a panel of experts will help attendees make sense of the mire and provide guidance. 

It’s the most significant and continued emerging topic in this space, and there’s so much unknown from a employer/employee benefit administrator perspective, and there’s so much variability from state to state and anticipation that there will be a federal component,” said Marc Cunningham, SVP, disability and leave at Broadspire.

“We’ve had a chance to adjust to FMLA for a couple of decades now, we’ve had a chance to adjust to ADA to a degree, although it’s still building, but this is new and unknown, and it’s fluctuating with the roll out and the plan designs. So there’s a lot of anxiety about how to be compliant and also how to be prepared.” 

PFML Laws Are Expanding

That preparation is paramount as states have expanded PFML laws over the last several years, as an explicitly paid corollary to the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Marc Cunningham, SVP, disability and leave, Broadspire

According to A Better Balance, a legal advocacy group in favor of PFML expansion, nine states plus D.C. currently have paid family and medical leave laws on the books, as of February 10, 2021.

This is in contrast to state Family Medical Leave, which, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, exists in 24 states and is usually unpaid. 

 The movement to expand leave to include pay at either full or partial regular salary or earnings stems from the FMLA, which was signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 and applies to most employers with 50 or more employees.

The law provides qualifying employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and also requires employers to keep group health benefits in place for employees who take the leave.

The law is geared not toward replacing income while on leave but rather to protect a worker’s job for a guaranteed period. 

The U.S. Department of Labor states specifically that “FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.”

The benefits are restricted to employees who have worked for the employer for 12 months and who qualify under the following conditions: 

  • For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee; 
  • For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care; 
  • To care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition; or 
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. 
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Tracking PFML Law Trends

Cunningham, who has spent five years with Broadspire and previously over nine years with Aetna, plans to address these overall trends in the session. The panelists, who span the range of benefits administration and legal expertise, will also guide attendees through strategies to maximize success in the shifting environment.

“Highlights for the session would be the focus on what we know, and what we are aware is proposed legislatively and what we anticipate coming down the pipe from the state and federal level,” he explained.  

On the federal side, public opinion is decidedly mixed.

According to a Pew Research Center report based on two representative surveys of U.S. adults, general support of paid family leave exists in a clear majority, but the circumstances under which citizens believe it should apply vary widely.

Pew found that 82% of Americans support paid leave for mothers following the birth or adoption of a child, with 69% supporting paid paternity leave for fathers. Further, 85% are in favor paid leave for workers dealing with their own serious health condition, but far fewer (67%) would extend those benefits to a family member or extended family member.  

Despite some apparent favor for paid family and medical leave, most federal legislation, including the 2018 Economic Security for New Parents Act proposed by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), which attempted to offset parental leave by cutting parents’ Social Security benefits, made little progress. 

The significant split though is between Americans who would support a federal mandate for employers to provide paid benefits and those who would leave employers to make that determination without federal intervention.

Pew found that 51% believe the federal government should require employers to provide paid leave, 48% said employers should make the call, and one percent had no response. 

For Cunningham’s part, the key for employers is risk management activities that take their programs into account.

“The key takeaways would be, as an employer, determining where your points of risk are,” he said.

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“Do you have a strategy or plan in place to address these matters proactively, and/or do you need to solicit input, direction or administration from outside compliance or third party administrators? Also, looking at your current vendor partners to determine whether or not they can support you in this, or if you need additional support beyond that.” 

This virtual session will be on demand for registrants after it goes live and will also feature: Karen Trumbull English, CPCU, ARM, senior vice president with the Spring Consulting Group, LLC; Steven Ferenczy, Esq., compliance consultant with Alliant Employee Benefits; and Kerry Daley, absence program manager with Robert Half.  

Registration is available here. &

Nina Luckman is a business journalist based in New Orleans, focusing primarily on the workers' compensation industry. Over the last several years, Nina has served as Editor of Louisiana Comp Blog, a news site she started in 2014 under the auspices of a group self-insurance fund. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]