What’s the difference between the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Paid Family Leave (PFL)?

The most important difference is that the FMLA provides federally mandated, job-protected unpaid leave, while the PFL programs are state-mandated and offer paid leave that may or may not be job-protected. While the PFL programs may have similar leave triggers as FMLA (such as bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member), they commonly stipulate different, often shorter, eligibility periods for benefits than FMLA. There also may be differences between which employers are required to offer benefits; For instance, FMLA exempts private employers with fewer than 50 employees, but PFL programs may not. The New York program, for example, applies to all private sector employees who work in New York State, regardless of company size or location.

Review this 2-minute video to understand the differences.

What is the difference between paid family leave, paid family and medical leave, and paid sick leave?

Paid family leave (PFL) typically provides time for an employee to:

  • Care for a seriously ill family member
  • Bond with a new child (by birth or placement via foster care or adoption)
  • Address issues related to a family member’s impending military service or to care for an injured service member, in some cases)

Paid family and medical leave (PFML) typically includes similar leave triggers and plan design as PFL, with the addition of:

  • Medical leave for an employee’s own serious health condition

Paid sick leave (PSL) typically requires an employer to provide paid leave for:

  • An employee’s own illness or injury
  • At times, also to care for a sick family member

Review this 2-minute video to understand the differences.

How does PFML coordinate with other paid and unpaid leaves?
What are some best practices for Company Paid Leave?
What are common PFL program parameters?

In addition to the leave triggers outlined above, these programs may also establish the percentage of wages covered, the duration of benefits, and other important considerations, such as job protection and continuation of health benefits during leave.

How does paid family leave affect existing state disability plans?

Employers may be required to offer both plans, not just one or the other. When both are applicable, typically employees may only receive benefits for leave or disability in any given period, and not at the same time, depending on the state. Some states include a medical leave component for an employee's own serious health condition (which is similar to disability) in their new paid family leave programs. These all-in-one programs will in most cases create a necessary coordination of family and medical leave entitlements and benefit sequencing.

What happens if an employer currently offers a paid family leave benefit to their employees and their state subsequently implements a statewide program?

Each state has different rules, and each employer may face different challenges when it comes to coordinating company benefits and state regulations. Companies need to carefully monitor the latest regulatory changes and should consult their brokers for guidance.

How can I prepare for a paid family leave mandate?

Keep track of key facts, such as state regulatory updates and the dates for implementation of premium deductions. You’ll need to be prepared to answer your employees’ questions, including who is eligible for the benefit, if there will be payroll deductions, and if their job is protected while they are on leave.

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