Lessons on paid leave offered

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PITTSFIELD The state's new Paid Family Medical Leave program doesn't begin for another two years, but the first step in initiating the process starts July 1, and the county's state designated economic development agency wants to make sure that local small business owners know that deadline will be here soon.

With that in mind, 1Berkshire in conjunction with a Pittsfield attorney who specializes in employment law, will hold three educational workshops across the Berkshires next week to ensure small-business owners know the steps that they are required to take to remain in compliance before that July deadline arrives.

The workshops are scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday at Pittsfield City Hall; at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at The Green in North Adams; and at 9 a.m. Thursday at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.

The Pittsfield session will be broadcast and recorded by Pittsfield Community Television so that it can be distributed to other regional public access television channels in the Berkshires for viewing. Representatives of the Pittsfield employment law firm Ben Steffans Legal will be present at all three gatherings.

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, adopted in 2018, establishes a system for paid leave of up to 12 weeks to care for a family member, and up to 20 weeks for an employee's own illness. The tax that pays for it begins in 2019, and leave will be available beginning in 2021.

The state will begin assessing employers a payroll tax to raise the funding to pay for the legislation. That tax is currently set at 0.63 percent, but will be adjusted annually. The first payment of that tax to the state is due Oct. 31.

"While the benefits of the PFMLA program roll out in 2021, there are significant and high-impact actions employers need to take before July 1 of this year to ensure they don't face penalties and issues with compliance," said Katie Brelsford, 1Berkshire's director of finance.

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These free sessions are open to any business owner or representative of a business who coordinates human resources, accounting or financing. Three regional sessions have been scheduled because, "we want to make it as convenient as it could be for everybody," Brelsford said.

The state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development held a listening session on the draft regulations compiled by the Department of Family and Medical Leave in Pittsfield in March. But Breslford said 1Berkshire believed additional sessions were needed because most of the attendees at the March event were from large businesses.

"Just attending the different sessions we noticed a lot of bigger employers were there; not the smaller [businesses]," Brelsford said. "I was concerned because we didn't want the smaller businesses to face fines because they didn't know."

According to 1Berkshire, both large and small employers are now required to disseminate and collect information and documentation to and from their employees, and develop internal practices to comply with the financial contributory aspects of the program.

The final draft regulations for the Family and Medical Leave Act were released March 31, but the law's final regulations also won't be released until July 1.

Brelsford said next week's sessions will be focused solely on what employers need to know to now get ready for the pending legislation, not about what will happen in two years."We'll have plenty of time for that," she said.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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