Family Leave Requirements under Massachusetts and Federal Law

Both Federal and Massachusetts laws provide women with job leave rights when they give birth or adopt a child. A bill recently filed in the Massachusetts legislature proposes amending state law to give men paternity leave rights. This would bring Massachusetts more in line with federal law on family leave, which is gender neutral.

In Massachusetts, under the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA), women are allowed to take 8 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.   An employee who has given birth to twins is entitled to eight weeks unpaid leave for each child. Maternity leave can be taken for giving birth or adopting a child.  In order for the MMLA to apply, you must meet three requirements.  First, you must work for a company with 6 or more employees.  Second, you must have been employed full-time for the initial probationary period or for at least three months. Third, you must have provided your employer with 2 weeks’ notice of your anticipated leave date and your intention to return.

Currently, the MMLA  is written in such a way that it gives only female employees family leave rights.  Nevertheless, if an employer provides family leave to women and not to men (or gives any paid leave just to female employees) that employer may be discriminating on the basis of gender. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has stated that denying paternity leave rights may be unlawful discrimination.  If the proposed bill becomes law, all men and women who otherwise meet the requirements of the MMLA would be allowed to take leave for the birth or adoption of their child.

Under federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that both men and women receive 12 weeks of unpaid family leave.  Family leave under the FMLA can be taken for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.  It can also be taken by an employee to care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition, or if the employee himself or herself has a serious health condition. The law also provides for military caregiver leave.  In this sense, the FMLA is much broader than the MMLA.  However, the FMLA has other requirements.   First, you must work for an employer with 50 or more employees. If your company has less than 50 employees, this law does not apply, (but you may have rights under the state law). Second, you must have been an employee for at least 12 months.  Third, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer in the previous 12 months in order to have leave rights under the federal law.

If you take family leave, your employer is required to keep your job, or a similar job, open for you when you return.  You may have a claim if your company demoted you or took other adverse action against you because you took advantage of your family leave rights.

If you have questions about your rights, please contact Boston, Massachusetts employment law attorney, Maura Greene, Law Office of Maura Greene, LLC, Six Beacon St., Suite 205, Boston, MA 02108, at 617-935-1580.