When comparing FMLA vs. PFL, it’s important to understand the similarities, differences, laws, and eligibility. Here’s what to consider.

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The text Family Medical Leave Act in red and white letters on green background

Sorting out the types of leave available can be challenging for employees. While some types of family and medical leave are mandatory for employers to offer, others are solely based on the organization’s discretion. Add to that trying to figure out if you qualify for paid leave or must take it without pay, and you have a complex issue to untangle.

There are 2 main types of medical leave employees should know about and understand. They pertain to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and paid family leave (PFL). When comparing FMLA vs. PFL, it’s important to understand their similarities and differences and determine which applies to your situation. If you don’t understand how the associated laws affect you, you’re not alone. About 87% of employees aren’t knowledgeable about them either.¹

If you’re unsure about the similarities, differences, benefits, and eligibility, this article is designed to help.

What is PFL?

Generically speaking, PFL stands for paid family leave, as in employees being paid while away from work on family leave. It’s among various types of leave a company might incorporate into its comprehensive employee compensation plan.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to PFL primarily to denote the Paid Family Leave law. It officiates the PFL concept in states that adopt it, offering paid family leave to participating employees facing specific medical situations. For example, California’s PFL benefits cover life events such as taking off work to care for a family member with a serious health condition. They also cover paternal leave to bond with an adopted, foster, or newborn child and qualifying military-related situations.

What is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that mandates eligible employees be entitled to unpaid leave in certain circumstances. These employees will have their job protected and waiting for them when they return.

FMLA covers time off when:

  • The employee is unable to work due to a serious health issue.
  • An employee must care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) suffering from a qualifying health condition.
  • An employee must care for a new child.
  • Employees have a qualifying need stemming from their military spouse, child, or parent being called to active duty (or status).

Differences between FMLA and PFL

Similarities between FMLA and PFL primarily include that they are types of leave and some of the events they cover. However, they differ in numerous ways.

1. The geographic areas they cover

FMLA is a federal law that covers all 50 states. PFL as a state law only affects employers in those states. (Generic PFL can be implemented, or not, anywhere.)

2. The length of leave they guarantee

FMLA offers longer protected leave, as it requires that eligible employees be entitled to a minimum 12 weeks’ leave in a 12-month period. PFL law typically provides up to 6 weeks of leave to eligible employees within a 12-month period.

3. How the leave is funded

Employers aren’t required to offer paid time off under FMLA, so the program doesn’t require any employee contributions or funding. This differs from how the mandated PFL is structured. Employees participating in the PFL contribute .08% of their pay to the program. If and when they take PFL, the paid leave is funded by the contributions.

4. The employer size they cover

Employers with 50 or more employees must comply with the FMLA. Within those organizations, every employee is eligible as long as they’ve worked 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months and have worked for the employer for at least 12 months. The 12 months do not have to be consecutive.

The PFL applies to all employers statewide but only applies to participating employees.

5. The pay (or lack of it) received by the employee

FMLA doesn’t mandate that the employer must provide paid leave.

But under the PFL, the employee shall receive 60-70% of the wages they earned 5 to 18 months before the claim’s start date. However, employees already receiving worker’s compensation, unemployment, or disability payments, wouldn’t be eligible for PFL.

6. One mandates the opportunity to take leave, the other doesn’t

The FMLA guarantees leave and job protection to employees who qualify. PFL only provides compensation for leave; it doesn’t require employers to approve the leave.

How do you qualify?

Contacting your HR department is the first step in finding out if your situation is covered by FMLA or PFL. They will be able to advise you of the best course of action. You may need to secure a medical certificate for medical leave claims or proof of relationship for new child bonding leave.

Navigating FMLA and PFL can be difficult. By understanding how they differ, employees can better determine if their event qualifies, how much time they can take off, and whether they’ll receive pay during their leave. Knowing your job is protected and waiting on you when you’re ready to return can afford you peace of mind during your time off.

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s FMLA fact pages and Workest’s 2022 Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

  1. The FMLA and PFL Knowledge Gap 2020
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