Paid Family And Medical Leave Comes To Connecticut
Connecticut recently joined nine other states and the District of Columbia by enacting legislation providing employees with paid leave for family and medical reasons. Beginning January 1, 2022, the Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (“PFMLA”) will provide eligible employees in Connecticut with wage replacement benefits for certain qualifying events.
In addition to providing wage replacement benefits, the PFMLA amends the current Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (“CT FMLA”) by (i) eliminating the threshold number of employees needed for an employer to be covered, (ii) expanding the list of reasons for which leave may be taken, and (iii) substantially reducing the minimum time period an employee must have been employed to qualify for leave. These changes will also become effective January 1, 2022.
Prior to the enactment of the PFMLA, the CT FMLA required employers with 75 or more employees to provide up to 16 weeks of unpaid, job-protected family and medical leave in a 24-month period. With these changes, most Connecticut employees, regardless of their employers’ location or headcount, will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave in a 12-month period.
Notably, however, the PFMLA excludes private elementary and secondary schools from its coverage.
Reasons For Leave
Under the PFMLA and the expanded CT FMLA, Connecticut employees will be eligible to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave in a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
- For the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child;
- To care for the employee’s spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling, or any other individual whose close association with the employee shows to be the equivalent of those family relationships, with a serious health condition;
- For a serious health condition experienced by the employee;
- For service as an organ or bone marrow donor;
- For a qualifying exigency related to the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent being on active duty or having been notified of an impending call or order to active duty in the armed forces; or
- For reasons related to family violence.
Eligible employees may also be eligible for an additional two weeks of leave for a pregnancy-related health condition resulting in incapacitation.
An employee will be eligible for paid leave benefits under the PFMLA if (i) the employee has earned wages of at least $2,325 in his or her highest-earning quarter of the first four of the five most recently completed quarters (the “base period”), and (ii) the employee is currently employed by a covered Connecticut employer. An employee who is not currently employed, but was employed by a covered Connecticut employer within the previous 12 weeks, may also be eligible for paid leave benefits.
In general, a covered employer is one that employs one or more employees in Connecticut. This includes employers located outside the state with employees in Connecticut who work remotely.
However, the PFMLA does not apply to employees of non-public elementary and secondary schools, federal employees, state and municipal employees who are members of unions, or employees of local and regional boards of education.
Job Restoration Rights
While the PFMLA itself does not provide job restoration rights, in most cases, employees taking paid leave will enjoy such rights under other state or federal statutes. In particular, the expanded CT FMLA will now provide job protection to an employee who has worked for an employer of any size for at least three months prior to taking leave. This is a significant change from the CT FMLA’s previous provisions, under which an employee was eligible for job-protected leave only after working for at least 12 months and a minimum of 1,000 hours for an employer with at least 75 employees.
The PFMLA program will be funded through employee payroll deductions, which began on January 1, 2021. Currently, deductions are capped at 0.5% of the employee’s total wages, up to the Social Security wage contribution rate. The contribution rate will be reviewed annually each November by the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority (the “Authority”), but will never exceed the 0.5% rate. Employers will be responsible for submitting employee contributions to the Authority Trust Fund on a quarterly basis.
The Authority will accept and review applications for benefits and distribute benefits to eligible employees whose applications are approved. Forms to be used for filing for benefits will be available on the Authority’s website.
The weekly benefit amount for an employee on PFMLA leave will be based on a percentage of the employee's average weekly wage. The maximum benefit amount for each employee per week will be capped at an amount determined by the Authority.
Private Plan Exemptions
An employer can apply for an exemption from participation in the paid leave program administered by the Authority if it offers a private plan to its employees that provides all of the same rights, protections, and benefits as the PFMLA. The employer’s private plan must also comply with certain other requirements. In particular, a majority of the employer's employees working in Connecticut must vote in favor of adopting the private plan.
For an employer that receives an exemption and provides a private plan, the withholdings from employee paychecks are held by the employer, instead of the Authority Trust Fund.
Employers must register with the Authority and establish accounts through which they will submit contributions and communicate with the Authority. An employer may also submit an application for a private plan exemption through its Authority account.
Prohibition On Retaliation
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for requesting, applying for, or using paid family and medical leave for which they are eligible.
Finally, starting in July 2022, every covered Connecticut employer is required to provide its employees with written notice describing (i) employees’ entitlement to family and medical leave benefits under the PFMLA, (ii) the circumstances in which such leave may be taken, (iii) the process for applying for income-replacement benefits from the Authority, (iv) the retaliation protections provided by the PFMLA, and (v) an employee's right to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner. Such notice must be provided at the time of hiring, and annually thereafter.
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If you have questions about your organization’s responsibilities under the new Connecticut PFMLA, please contact one of our experienced employment attorneys.