Maternity and Parental Leave Laws in Massachusetts

If you work in Massachusetts, you have the right to pregnancy and parental leave under state and federal law.

By , J.D.

If you work in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Massachusetts' Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law give you the right to take time off work for the following:

  • pregnancy
  • childbirth, and
  • parenting (including maternity and paternity leave).

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Massachusetts law also prohibit your employer from discriminating against you because of pregnancy, meaning that both these laws protect your job if you need to take time off work. Here's what you need to know about taking pregnancy and parental leave in Massachusetts, including when you can get paid leave.

Your Right to Time Off During Pregnancy

In Massachusetts, there are two types of laws that protect your job if you need pregnancy leave:

  • laws that require pregnancy leave, and
  • laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Some protections are based on federal law, while others are based on state law.

Time Off for Pregnancy Under FMLA

The FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of family and/or medical leave in a year. If you qualify, you can use the FMLA to take unpaid time off when you're unable to work because of pregnancy and childbirth. You can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, including routine check-ups and doctor visits.

(Learn more about FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)

Time Off for Pregnancy Under Massachusetts' Paid Leave Law

Under the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law, employees can take up to 26 weeks of paid time off for combined medical or family leave each benefit year. When you have a baby, you can take both medical leave (for pregnancy complications and/or to recover from childbirth) and parental leave (to bond with your new child).

Maximum PFML leave for childbirth. You can get up to 20 weeks off for pregnancy and the birth of a child, and your job is protected during that time. The length of your medical leave is determined by your doctor.

Massachusetts's PFML earnings requirement. To be eligible for paid medical or family leave (including pregnancy leave), your average earnings in the year before your leave starts must meet a threshold, which is updated each year. (For 2023. the minimum is $6,000 per year). You can check your eligibility and see an estimated benefit amount using the state's PFML online benefits calculator.

Do all employers offer Massachusetts PFML? Although Massachusetts law used to provide only for maternity leave, it now includes paternity leave, allowing parents of any gender to take time off for the birth of a child.

Most employers in Massachusetts with at least one employee must participate in the PFML program. Some types of employers aren't automatically eligible to participate in PFML coverage but can opt to participate, like regional government agencies. And if you're self-employed, you can opt into the program. But some types of work are automatically excluded, including:

  • certain independent contractors
  • railroad employees
  • real estate brokers, insurance agents, and other commission-only employees
  • employees of religious institutions (like churches)
  • work study participants, student nurses, and interns, and
  • certain training program participants.

When FMLA and PFML both apply. If you're eligible for leave under both the FMLA and Massachusetts's PFML law, your time off will run simultaneously under both laws. In other words, you can't take 12 weeks of paid leave under state law and then take another 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA.

Protection From Pregnancy Discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a federal law that offers pregnant workers some protection from discrimination on the job. It doesn't say that employers must give pregnant employees time off work. But it does require employers to treat pregnant employees the same way employees who are temporarily disabled for other reasons are treated.

For example, suppose you aren't covered by PFML because you don't meet the earnings requirement. And let's say your employer lets employees take time off for surgery or cancer treatment. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, you must also be allowed to take time off if you're unable to work due to pregnancy.

But the federal PDA applies only to employers with at least 15 employees. Fortunately, 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 the same as employees with other temporary disabilities. In Massachusetts, the pregnancy discrimination law applies to most employers, including smaller companies (those with at least six employees).

Your Right to Parental Leave in Massachusetts

The FMLA gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or fostered. You're entitled to 12 weeks off under FMLA. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you'll have ten weeks left to use for maternity leave.

Massachusetts's PFML leave law works the same way. Whatever portion of your 26 weeks remains after you recover from giving birth will be available to use for parental leave, up to 12 weeks. (PFML covers up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a child after birth, adoption, or foster placement.)

For example, let's say your doctor orders bed rest for the last 7 weeks of your pregnancy and then 8 weeks off work to recover from childbirth. That's 15 weeks of medical leave. That means under Massachusetts law, you can take an additional 11 weeks of maternity leave to bond with your baby.

Taking Part-Time or Reduced Schedule Parental Leave

The FMLA allows employees to take medical leave intermittently—meaning you can take small leaves to accommodate your medical care. For example, if you have a prenatal check-up, you don't have to take a whole day off. Instead, you can use a couple of hours of your FMLA unpaid leave, then go back to work.

But under FMLA rules, you aren't automatically entitled to use parental leave intermittently. If you want to use your federal maternity or paternity leave a little at a time, your employer must agree to it, and you must finish your leave within one year of your child's birth or adoption.

Massachusetts parental leave works differently. Under PFML, you can schedule your state leave in any of the following ways:

  • take off a single time period of consecutive, uninterrupted days (continuous leave)
  • work a consistent but reduced schedule for multiple weeks (reduced leave), or
  • take multiple leaves of a few days or weeks at a time (intermittent leave).

You get only 12 weeks of PFML family leave per year even if you have multiple childbirths, adoptions, or foster care placements or you take different types of family leave.

Parental Leave When Both Parents Work for the Same Employer

If you're 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. But 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.

The FMLA limits apply only to parents who are married to each other. But family leave laws in Massachusetts apply to unmarried parents too. And the PFML law changed the way parents who work for the same employer can take parental leave in Massachusetts.

Before PFML, parents got only eight weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child. And parents who worked for the same Massachusetts employer, whether married to each other or not, had to share their parental leave after their child was born. So, parents who worked for the same employer could take a total of eight weeks between them—not eight weeks each.

Under PFML, each parent is entitled to 12 weeks off to bond with their new child. And the parents get to decide whether or not to take their leave at the same time or separately.

FMLA leave is unpaid. So, if you don't qualify for Massachusetts's PFML benefits or your employer doesn't participate in the program, you still have the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. But you'd need to use your accrued sick days, vacation, or PTO to get paid during your time off. Or you can purchase private short-term disability insurance that covers pregnancy.

Using Sick Days for Pregnancy or Parental Leave

Massachusetts requires employers with at least 11 employees to provide a minimum amount of paid sick days. You accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours you work, up to a total of 40 hours off per year.

Under Massachusetts law, you can use your sick leave for your own illness or medical appointments or a family member's illness or medical appointments. So you can use your accrued sick leave for any of the following purposes:

  • to take time off because of pregnancy
  • to attend prenatal appointments, or
  • to take your partner to a medical appointment.

Getting Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits

Fortunately, Massachusetts PFML provides benefits for most employees. Each benefit year (52 weeks), you're entitled to the following paid time off:

  • up to 12 weeks of family leave
  • up to 20 weeks of medical leave, and
  • up to 26 weeks of total family and medical leave.

But there's a waiting period—you get no PFML benefits for the first seven days of your medical or family leave, even though it counts toward the 26-week maximum. The only exception is for maternity leave that immediately follows a new mother's medical leave for childbirth.

For example, if you take six weeks of medical leave to recover after giving birth, you won't get PFML benefits for the first week of your medical leave. But if you then take 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with your new baby, you'll be paid benefits for all 12 weeks. The waiting week is waived.

What If My Employer Doesn't Participate in PFML?

Some employers are exempted from participating in the PFML program because they offer medical and family leave benefits that are equal to or better than the state PFML benefits. If you work for an exempted employer, you'll be entitled to benefits that are at least as generous as the state benefits.

Other employers—like those excluded from participating in PFML—might offer benefits that will pay for some or all of your time off. These employer-provided benefits could include any or all of the following:

  • maternity leave
  • paternity leave
  • other parental benefits, or
  • short-term disability insurance.

Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.

Learn more about your parental leave rights and how to get disability for childbirth.

Updated February 17, 2023

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