3-month delay of paid leave law likely
BOSTON – If state government is going to approve the three-month delay in payroll taxes needed to fund the new paid family and medical leave program that advocacy and business groups have pushed for, it is likely going to happen this week, the governor said Monday.
The fledgling Department of Family and Medical Leave plans to begin collecting a 0.63 percent payroll tax from employers July 1 to fund the estimated $800 million paid family and medical leave program launched so workers can more easily take care of themselves and their families without facing fiscal crises.
In a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo late last month, officials from Associated Industries of Massachusetts and Raise Up Massachusetts said there's a need for a three-month extension of the start of the required contributions and the deadline for approval of exemptions for employers with sufficient private paid and family medical leave plans.
"It's something that we'll consider. Whether or not we will agree to that extension is yet to be seen," DeLeo said Monday after a meeting privately with Baker and Spilka. The speaker said he has heard from Raise Up and business organizations about the request for the delay.
Baker said he "certainly heard from the same people that the Legislature has heard from" and said the program, created by the 2018 so-called grand bargain law he signed, is ready for its planned July launch.
"We've done the work to be ready. The systems are in place, the operating model is up," Baker said after Monday's meeting with legislative leaders. The governor then added, "We've talked with these guys about it a bit over the course of the past few days. I'm expecting and anticipating that everybody knows that if we're going to do something about this, we probably need to do it this week."
The three-month extension, officials from Raise Up, AIM and other groups wrote, would provide time to address "the lack of employer clarity on the regulations," to communicate with employees about payroll deductions, and to enable insurance providers to develop products to assist employers.
AIM, Raise Up Massachusetts and several other major groups also jointly recommended five other amendments to the paid leave law "that are necessary for clarification of rights and responsibilities of stakeholders to effect the smooth implementation and operation of the new law."
The groups went public with their requests for changes in the law on May 20. An AIM official on Friday said the requests had sparked a "lot of conversations."
Also Monday, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal sent a letter to the chief lawyer for the Internal Revenue Service asking that the agency issue guidance clarifying certain federal tax aspects of the family and medical leave laws in Massachusetts, Washington state and elsewhere.
"Expedited guidance for taxpayers subject to these laws is crucial," Neal, the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, wrote to the IRS. "Millions of taxpayers -- both employers and employees -- will soon be subject to mandatory contributions with uncertain federal tax consequences. The Massachusetts plan raises particularly novel issues because of the built-in variability in the amount of contributions made by employers and employees, respectively."
The new law calls for up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member's active duty military service. It also authorizes up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker's own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member.
Benefits are slated to become available on Jan. 1, 2021 for workers seeking time off to bond with a new child, take care of a sick or injured servicemember or to tend to a serious personal health condition. On July 1, 2021, benefits are expected to be made available for workers to care for a family member with a serious health condition.