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Adams and Reese Introduces PFML Laws Series (Part 1 of 3)

Published in Salary.com

Paid family medical leave (PFML) is a hot button issue in workplaces for both employers and employees, and momentum for this benefit is growing.

In 1993, Congress passed the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), guaranteeing most workers (at companies with at least 50 employees) job-protected leave of up to 12 weeks for employees to spend time with their newborn or newly adopted child, to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, or parent, or take care of their own serious health condition. The FMLA was amended in 2008 and 2010 to add job protections for absences when an employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a military service member who has been called to active duty service and absences when an employee must care for the employee’s spouse, child, parent, or “next of kin” (if the employee is the nearest blood relative) who is a recovering service member.

While the FMLA requires covered employers to allow employees eligible to take leave for the qualifying circumstances to use any paid leave provided by the employer, the FMLA does not mandate paid leave. If the employer has no paid leave policy, or an employee has exhausted the leave provided, FMLA leave is unpaid.

According to a 2018 U.S. Department of Labor sponsored survey, 15% of employees surveyed went on a leave of a type covered by the FMLA during the 12 months before the survey. Of the leaves taken in those 12 months, 47% involved paternity/maternity leaves and family caregiving leaves, including military exigency leaves. Another DOL sponsored survey of women in the workforce revealed that female workers without access to paid leave benefits were almost five times more likely to say that they did not take off work because they could not afford to do so (24% vs. 5% of women with access to paid leave).

As of 2023, only one out of every four employees (24%) in the U.S. private sector workforce reported access to paid family leave through their employer. Among the lowest wage workers, who are predominately women and workers of color, 94% had no access to paid family leave.

According to a 2017 Small Business Majority survey of business owners with fewer than 100 workers, more than 60% said they support state laws authorizing family and medical leave insurance programs funded through employer and employee contributions.

Patchwork of PFML Laws

Over the last 20 years, the District of Columbia and 21 states have taken family and medical leave one step further, introducing laws requiring or allowing employers to provide paid family and medical leave. California started the trend in 2004, enabling employees to receive eight weeks of paid family and medical leave, while Maine is the most recent state to pass a law (effective May 1, 2026), allowing for up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

PFML laws in Delaware, Maryland, and Minnesota will go into effect on January 1, 2026. On the other hand, on April 5, 2024, Virginia’s governor vetoed Senate Bill 373, which attempted to create a mandatory paid family and medical leave program funded through payroll taxes.

Map of States with PFML Laws

Mandatory PFML Laws: The 13 jurisdictions with mandatory PFML laws include California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Except for New York, these jurisdictions have adopted a model similar to the unemployment compensation system under which PMFL benefits are funded through pooled payroll taxes on employees and/or employers. In contrast, New York law requires employers to purchase PFML plans from a private insurance market where insurance companies, including the state-run New York Insurance Fund, offer coverage. The New York state government oversees and regulates the system, determining benefit levels and premium rates.

Voluntary PFML Laws: The eight states with voluntary PMFL laws include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. The laws in these jurisdictions permit employers to obtain PFML insurance from the private insurance market. There is a regional difference among these laws. In the northeast states of New Hampshire and Vermont, the law mandates a single insurance carrier to provide a base plan for each of their states. In the southeast, state laws permit employers to select their own insurance carriers for these benefits.

Adams and Reese PFML Laws Series

What do employers need to be aware of about these laws? How does the PFML system work in states that have mandatory PFML laws, and how does this language differ from states that have enacted voluntary laws?

Over the next two months, we will publish a series of articles that discuss more in-depth the specific language of these state statutes across the Adams and Reese national footprint in Alabama, Colorado, DC, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. We will break down all these questions and more.

Our first article next month will discuss the states in our law firm’s footprint with voluntary PFML laws.

About Our Author

Scott Hetrick is the Adams and Reese Labor and Employment Practice Team Leader, and is a Partner practicing in the Mobile office. As a management rights advocate, Scott represents employers on federal and state labor and employment law compliance and dispute resolution. He speaks frequently on employment law and human resource management issues at seminars for personnel managers and business owners and has published numerous articles on employment law. Scott also has been recognized in Best Lawyers® in Employment Law since 2010, including being named “Lawyer of the Year” in Mobile.