Maternity and Parental Leave Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts employees have the right to pregnancy and parental leave under state and federal law.

By , J.D.
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If you work in Massachusetts, the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Massachusetts's parental leave law give you the right to take unpaid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Massachusetts law also prohibit your employer from discriminating against you because of your pregnancy, which may give you the right to take time off work in some cases.

Unpaid Time Off During Pregnancy

There are two types of laws that might protect your job if you need pregnancy leave: laws that require pregnancy leave and laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Maternity and Medical Leave

Massachusetts law requires employers to provide up to eight weeks of leave, unpaid, to employees for the birth or adoption of a child. Employers with at least six employees must comply with this law, and employees are eligible for leave if they have completed the employer's probationary period or worked for the employer for at least three months (whichever is shorter). Although this law used to provide only for maternity leave, it now allows parents of either sex to take time off.

The FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work in a one-year period for pregnancy (among other things). If you qualify, you can use the FMLA to take time off when you are unable to work because of your pregnancy and childbirth. You can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, including routine check-ups and doctor visits. (Learn more about the FMLA, including eligibility requirements, in our article on FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)

If you are eligible for leave under both the FMLA and Massachusetts's pregnancy leave law, your leave time will run simultaneously under both laws. In other words, you cannot take eight weeks of leave under state law and then 12 weeks under the FMLA.

Pregnancy Discrimination

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. However, it does require employers to treat employees who are unable to work due to pregnancy just as it treats employees who are temporarily disabled for other reasons. For example, if your company lets employees take time off for other temporary disabilities like surgery or cancer, then it must allow pregnant employees to take the same time off when they are unable to work.

Massachusetts law also prohibits sex discrimination, which has been interpreted to include pregnancy discrimination. Like the PDA, state law requires employers to treat employees who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy like employees with other temporary disabilities. However, the federal PDA applies only to employers with at least 15 employees; Massachusetts's discrimination law applies to smaller employers (those with at least six employees).

Unpaid Parenting Leave

The FMLA gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or foster. This is part of the total 12-week leave entitlement. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you will have ten weeks left to use for parenting leave.

Massachusetts's leave law works the same way. Whatever portion of your eight weeks remains after you give birth will be available for parental leave.

Part-Time or Reduced Schedule Leave

The FMLA allows employees to take their leave intermittently, if it's medically necessary. For example, if you have a prenatal check-up, you don't have to take a whole day off; you can use a couple of hours of your FMLA leave, then go back to work.

For parental leave, however, the rules are different. If you want to use your parenting leave a little at a time, your employer must agree to it. You aren't automatically entitled to use your parenting leave intermittently.

If your employer agrees to let you use your parenting leave intermittently, you must finish your time off within one year after the baby is born.

Parents Who Work for the Same Employer

If you are married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit your total amount of FMLA leave for parenting to 12 weeks for both of you. However, whatever portion of your own 12 weeks of FMLA leave you don't use for parenting will still be available to you for other reasons, including your own serious health condition.

Under the FMLA, this limit applies only to parents who are married to each other. But in Massachusetts, any two people who work for the same employer and take leave for the same child must share their leave. In other words, parents who work for the same employer, whether married to each other or not, may take a total of eight weeks between them, not eight weeks each.

Getting Paid During Your Time Off

FMLA leave is unpaid, as is leave under Massachusetts's leave law. However, you may ask—or your employer may require you—to use your accrued paid leave (like sick days, vacation, or PTO) to get paid during your time off. Unfortunately, Massachusetts doesn't have a temporary disability program or paid family leave benefits.

However, Massachusetts does require employers with at least 11 employees to provide paid sick days. Employees must accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work, up to a total of 40 hours off per year. You may use your sick leave for your own illness or medical appointments or for a family member's illness or medical appointments. So, if you are temporarily disabled by pregnancy, have to attend prenatal appointments, or need to take your partner to a medical appointment, you can use your accrued sick leave for these purposes.

In addition, your employer may offer maternity and paternity leave benefits, parental benefits, or short-term disability insurance that will pay for some or all of your time off. Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.

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