The Granite State Implements the Nation’s First Voluntary Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program
In December 2022, New Hampshire opened enrollment to private employers in the Nation’s first voluntary paid family and medical leave insurance program, aptly named the Granite State Paid Family Leave Plan (Granite State Plan or NH PFML). The Granite State Plan, which was initially introduced in 2019 as part of a failed joint proposal with Vermont – the Twin State Voluntary Leave Plan – was enacted in 2021. Vermont has since adopted a similar voluntary program.
Unlike most other states’ paid family and medical leave insurance laws, the Granite State Plan does not require employers to enroll in an NH PFML insurance plan. Participation in the plan is entirely optional, and individuals may be eligible to purchase an individual plan through the State’s insurance provider partner, MetLife, even if an employer chooses not to participate in the program.
In addition to the statute, the State of New Hampshire has published a series of FAQs and other guidance for private employers and workers. This guidance features subtle differences from the statute itself, so the insurance policies MetLife and other approved insurers provide will ultimately dictate the scope of the available benefits. Based on the available guidance, below are the key aspects of the Granite State Plan of which all New Hampshire employers should be aware.
Reasons for and Amount of NH PFML Leave
For private employers and individual workers, the Granite State Plan provides paid leave to covered employees for the following reasons (Qualifying Reasons):
The birth and care of a newborn child within one year of birth;
The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and the care of the newly placed child within one year of placement;
Caring for the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, or grandparent who has a serious health condition;
Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a covered military member on covered active duty;
To care for a covered service-member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service-member’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin; or
A serious health condition of the employee, provided that the eligible employee’s employer does not offer Short Term Disability insurance.
Private employers that opt-in can choose to offer employees a maximum of either six or 12 paid weeks of leave within a 12-month period for Qualifying Reasons. The law does not provide for a minimum amount of leave to be provided. Individual plans only allow for up to six weeks of leave in a 12-month period. Eligible employees can take NH PFML leave continuously or intermittently in at least 4-hour increments.
Pay During Leave
For private employers, the NH PFML bundles paid family and paid medical leave into a single insurance policy to provide eligible employees with wage replacement benefits equal to 60% of the employee’s average weekly wages (subject to the annual Social Security wage cap) for leave taken for Qualifying Reasons. There is an up to one week waiting/elimination period before benefits become payable each 12-month period.
Opting-in to Employer and Individual Plans
Private employers that opt-in to the Granite State Plan have several provider options. First, employers may purchase NH PFML insurance through MetLife, the State’s insurance partner. Second, employers may purchase other paid family and medical leave insurance plans approved by the New Hampshire Department of Insurance. Third, employers may provide self-insured benefit coverage, provided that the benefits are equivalent to those available under MetLife’s NH PFML plan. To incentivize enrollment, New Hampshire is offering a Business Enterprise Tax Credit to private employers who purchase NH PFML insurance through MetLife.
Individuals may be eligible to purchase an NH PFML individual plan from MetLife if their employer does not opt-in to an NH PFML plan or provide employer-equivalent benefit coverage.
Open enrollment for private employers began on December 1, 2022 and is ongoing, so employers may enroll at any time. Open enrollment for individuals began on January 1, 2023 and will remain open until March 2, 2023.
Private employers may fully fund the premium cost, split the premium cost with employees, or pass the full cost on to employees. Employers who pass the full cost of premiums on to employees, however, are not eligible for the Business Enterprise Tax Credit (even if they opt-in to a MetLife plan). However, certain large employers (the State’s guidance defines this as employers with 50+ employees, though the statute itself refers to large employers as those with “more than 50 employees”) must collect premiums from employees through payroll deductions if their employees purchase individual coverage, or if the employer chooses to split the premium cost with or pass on the premium cost to the employee. Small employers that opt-in are not required to collect premium payments through payroll deductions and may make premium payments through arrangements with MetLife.
While enrollment under the Granite State Plan is voluntary, all New Hampshire employers must: (1) address worker questions about paid family leave insurance, (2) direct workers to MetLife for additional information, and (3) provide wage and leave information, work schedules, and other benefits information to MetLife to support claims processing for individuals.
Additionally, the Granite State Plan creates certain job protections for workers who work for employers with 50 or more employees. These employers must: (1) restore workers who used NH PFML wage replacement benefits to the position they held before taking leave or to an equivalent position; and (2) continue to provide health insurance during leave, with employees paying any shared costs.
Interaction with Other Benefits
The NH PFML generally runs concurrently with leaves for other reasons (including under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, where applicable), but where an employee is eligible for pay benefits through a short-term disability plan or workers’ compensation, they cannot access NH PFML benefits. However, according to MetLife’s guidance, a worker eligible for self-funded disability benefits can access NH PFML wage replacement benefits.
Any other paid benefit coordination depends on employer policy, any applicable collective bargaining agreement in place, New Hampshire law, and the rules outlined in MetLife’s NH PFML insurance policy. Private employers can coordinate benefits between paid time off, vacation time, salary, continuation, and other employer-sponsored benefits like paid parental bonding. In addition, private employers who purchase NH PFML may require an employee to exhaust accrued pay leave before allowing the employee to access NH PFML wage replacement benefits. Likewise, workers who purchase individual coverage must use all but one week of accrued leave before using NH PFML wage replacement benefits.
What New Hampshire Employers Should Do Now
New Hampshire employers should evaluate whether to opt-in to the NH PFML program, and if so, whether such benefits will be provided through MetLife, another state-approved plan, or a self-insured plan. Employers should be prepared to administer any necessary payroll deductions for individual employees who opt-in. Finally, employers should review and, as necessary, revise current family and medical leave policies to reflect any new paid leave provisions.