FMLA vs. PFL: Different Types of Leave for Your Employees

When an employee needs to take time off, you may start asking what you need to do as an employer. What are the different types of leave? Do you need to offer FMLA leave? What about PFL? With so many different laws (and acronyms!) about family leave, your role as the employer can be confusing. So, when should you give FMLA vs. PFL?

What are the different types of leave?

Before you know which kinds of leaves you should offer to your employee, you need to know what the types of leave are:

  1. FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act. This federal program requires most employers to offer unpaid leave to employees for specific reasons. 
  2. PFL is Paid Family Leave. Only some states require employers to provide PFL for certain circumstances. You may need to offer PFL to employees if you are in a state that requires PFL. 

Here’s a rundown of these three different types of employee leave you should know before granting leave to your employees.

What is it?Unpaid medical leave for specific reasonsPaid family leave for specific reasons
Is it federal or state?Federal law for most employersState law in some states
How much time does it provide?Up to 12 weeks of job-protected leaveAmount of time off varies by state
How’s it funded?Not funded through a taxFunded through a tax deduction and/or contribution

What is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act protects an employee’s job if they must take unpaid time off work for reasons such as:

  • The birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child
  • Caring for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • An employee’s serious health condition that makes them unable to perform their job
  • Situations concerning the military deployment of an employee’s spouse, child, or parent

FMLA specifically provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees who qualify. 

FMLA: The basics

Employees can use FMLA continuously or intermittently for no more than 12 weeks in a 12-month period. Before an employee can use FMLA, they must:

  • Work for a covered employer
  • Have worked for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking FMLA
  • Be employed with the same employer for at least 12 months, and the employment does not need to be consecutive
  • Work for an employer who has at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius

Full- and part-time employees are eligible for FMLA if they meet the requirements. 

Not all employers must offer FMLA to their employees. So, you should make sure you are a covered employer before giving FMLA leave to your employees. 

Because FMLA is unpaid, you do not pay taxes to fund the program. 

What is PFL?

PFL is paid family leave required by select states. Depending on the state, employees can use state-mandated paid leave for specific reasons, such as to:.

  • Bond with a new child
  • Care of family members who are ill

In many cases (but not all), states pair PFL and Paid Medical Leave (PML). PML is paid time off for employees to use when they have a serious illness. Paid medical leave does not typically cover paid time off for caring for a relative who is ill. Do not use PFL or PML for temporary sickness (e.g., the common cold). 

Both PFL and PML are different from paid sick leave. Some states have paid sick leave laws separate from any business paid time off (PTO) policies. 

PFL: The basics

States with paid family leave generally require that employers or employees pay into a mandatory fund. You must deduct and/or contribute a specific percentage of the employee’s wages to the fund. The state defines the rate, and you calculate the taxes on your payroll. 

If you live in a state with mandated paid family leave, notify your employees and post a notice. States with PFL include California, Massachusetts, and New York. 

The states with PFL have specific laws regarding:

  • The length of leave
  • Reasons for paid leave
  • Who pays (e.g., employer-paid taxes)
  • Tax rate
  • Paid family leave benefit amount
  • Qualifications for paid leave

Some cities may have their own paid family leave requirements (e.g., San Francisco). And, some states have unpaid family leave laws that apply to more employers than FMLA (e.g., Vermont). Check your state and local laws to make sure you are compliant.

When to choose FMLA vs. PFL

When choosing which leave your employee qualifies for, consider why your employee needs leave. The three types of leave from work are different, but there is some overlap. Remember: 

  • FMLA and PFL do not cover temporary illness.
  • Serious health conditions may fall under FMLA, but your state might require PFL instead. 
  • The birth or placement of a child into an employee’s care may fall under PFL or FMLA. 

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This article has been updated from its original publication date of April 21, 2021.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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