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Under New Mass. Law, Harvard to Roll Out Family Medical Leave Benefit

University Hall at Night
University Hall is located in Harvard Yard.

Harvard will significantly expand paid family and medical leave benefits for eligible employees beginning in January 2021, in accordance with Massachusetts’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, which went into effect Tuesday.

Under the law, if Harvard administers its own benefits in a manner at least as generous as those in the legislation, it will be exempt from contributing to a statewide fund to finance paid leave packages.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an email that Harvard has been provisionally approved for an exemption based on its proposed expansion of benefits. The University will negotiate with its unions to finalize the particulars of the plan, Swain said.

Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers Director Bill Jaeger called the new law “very impressive” and said it will require “new programming” from the University to fulfill its paid family leave mandate.

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“HUCTW members have sort of a limited ability to take paid leave to care for sick loved ones, but what. . .the new state law is introducing is more significant than that, it's more generous than that,” Jaeger said.

Employees covered by Harvard’s new paid leave benefits can take a maximum of 26 weeks of paid medical or family leave in a benefit year, according to a memo distributed to employees Monday.

Within the 26-week limit, recipients can take up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave when a serious health condition leads to an inability to complete their tasks. Employees can also take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for scenarios including caring for a family member facing a serious health condition, or bonding with a newborn or adopted child, the memo said. Each of these limits aligns with the new state law.

Employees taking paid leave can receive a weekly maximum payment of $850, according to the notice.

According to the law, which Governor Charlie Baker ’79 signed into law in June 2018, if an employer offers a paid leave package that is “at least as generous” as the one stipulated by the law, it is eligible for an exemption to contributing to the fund.

Swain added that Harvard already provides family leave to some of its employees, but the proposed changes would expand that benefit.

Harvard currently allows its non-unionized regular employees to accrue one sick day for each completed working month, and provides 12 weeks of unpaid family leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

While Jaeger praised the new program, he said medical leave benefits in particular were already relatively good for his union’s members. The paid medical leave program that HUCTW won in its first contract negotiations in 1989 already provides an “important backstop” similar to what the new law calls for, Jaeger said.

“It doesn't perfectly match the new state program, but it's quite close,” he said.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at ruoqi.zhang@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.

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