Know Your Rights

Knowledge is power! As you navigate caring for yourself and your loved ones while earning a paycheck, a combination of federal, state, and local workplace laws can help ensure you are free from discrimination and have the time and support you need.

 

This state-by-state guide is organized into five tabs based on the situations that may be prompting you to seek information about your legal rights. Many of the laws we address overlap and can be used for different purposes, and are therefore discussed under more than one tab.

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Massachusetts

Staying healthy at work while you are pregnant is sometimes challenging: you may be dealing with morning sickness, back pain, or doctor’s appointments every few weeks. For women who have suffered a miscarriage, you may need time off for recovery. U.S., Massachusetts, and local laws can help you stay healthy at work, give you time off when you need it, and protect you from pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy Discrimination 

  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal for any employer in the U.S. with 15 or more workers to treat employees unfairly because they are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or have experienced pregnancy loss. That means:
    • Your boss can’t fire you or cut your hours when she finds out that you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant—you have the right to keep working as long as you can still do your job. You also have the right to be free from harassment at work because you are pregnant.
    • If your employer asks you about your pregnancy or plans to have children in a job interview, that may be evidence of pregnancy discrimination.
    • Your employer can’t treat you differently from other workers just because you are pregnant or have had a miscarriage. In 2015, the Supreme Court decided a case where it clarified what this means. The Court said that employers may not put a “significant burden” on pregnant employees. How do you know what’s a significant burden? Start looking around at how your employer treats other non-pregnant employees who have needed an accommodation at work. For example, does your employer have a policy of giving light duty only to those with on-the-job injuries? Or did they have no problem helping out folks with non-pregnancy related disabilities, but sent all the pregnant women out onto unpaid leave? If so, this could be evidence of pregnancy discrimination. It’s best to collect all the evidence you can (policies, employee handbooks or manuals, digging around to find out how others have been treated) and to discuss your particular situation with an attorney.
  • The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act also bans pregnancy discrimination, and covers most employers with 6 or more employees.

Workplace Accommodations

If you need changes at work to stay healthy on the job, the laws below can help. In addition, click the green button to learn how to talk with your boss about your pregnancy and request an accommodation if you need one.

  • Under the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, if you work for an employer with 6 or more employees, you are entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” because of your pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition, unless it would be really difficult or expensive for your employer to give it to you. This means:
    • Your boss can’t just fire you if you ask for a bigger uniform, a stool to sit on, or light duty while you are pregnant—they have to give you what you need to stay healthy at work, unless your employer can show that it would seriously harm the business.
    • Your employer can require you to submit documentation confirming the need for the accommodation you are seeking, but cannot require documentation if you’re requesting more frequent restroom, food, or water breaks; seating; limits on lifting over 20 pounds; or a private, non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.
    • Your employer has to engage with you in an interactive process to find out what “reasonable accommodations” can help you continue working.
    • Examples of accommodations explicitly covered by the law include time off to attend to a pregnancy complication or recover from childbirth with or without pay, acquisition or modification of equipment or seating; temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; job restructuring; light duty; private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk; assistance with manual labor; or a modified work schedule.
    • For more information about the law, see here and here.
  • If you are taking time off as a reasonable accommodation, e.g. for a pre-natal appointment, you may have the right to be paid if you are covered under Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time Law. For more information about this law, see the “Caring for Your Own Medical Needs” tab.
  • If you are not covered by the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (for example, if you work out of state), there is another federal law that may help you. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for employers in the U.S. with 15 or more employees to discriminate against workers with disabilities. Some pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, are considered disabilities under the law. This means:
    • Your boss cannot fire you, refuse to give you a promotion, or harass you because you have a pregnancy-related disability.
    • If you have a pregnancy-related disability, your boss cannot refuse to give you small changes at work that you need to stay healthy, like breaks to take medication, temporary relief from heavy lifting, or a stool to sit on during your shift. These changes are called “reasonable accommodations” and are available as long as you can still complete the basic duties of your job with those changes. Your boss does not have to give you an accommodation that would be very difficult or expensive, like building a whole new office.
    • Although pregnancy, by itself, is not considered a “disability,” some conditions of pregnancy may be disabilities so check with a lawyer to see whether you have a right to an accommodation at work.
  • The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act also bans disability discrimination, and covers employers with 6 or more employees. For more information, see here.
  • If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you have the right to take time off during pregnancy or after experiencing a miscarriage without losing your job. See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” section under the next tab for more information and see this guide to your workplace rights around miscarriage.
  • Massachusetts’ Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (see above) may also give you the right to unpaid, job-protected time off work as a “reasonable accommodation.”

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world with no national law guaranteeing women the right to paid leave for childbirth. However, you may have the right to unpaid leave during pregnancy, childbirth, and to bond with a new child. You may have additional rights under state and/or local laws. See the “Caring for Your Own Medical Needs” or “Caring for a Loved One” tabs for more information.

Paid Leave

  • As of January 1, 2021, if you work in Massachusetts, you may be eligible for paid family and medical leave.
    • Employees covered by the state unemployment insurance law, except for some public employees, are covered under the paid family and medical leave law.
    • To qualify for benefits, you must have earned a minimum amount (currently, $4,700) during the base period and must meet an earnings requirement tied to your average earnings that, in effect, you must have worked at least 15 weeks. The base period is the last 4 completed quarters or the 3 most recent completed quarters and the portion of the current quarter that has already occurred. You can combine income from more than one employer.
    • This law provides paid leave to covered employees who need time off of work to address their own serious health condition (which can include pregnancy-related needs), bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption, or address certain military family needs. * Starting July 1, 2021, this law will also provide up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
    • If you are taking leave to bond with a new baby, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave because of your own serious health condition, you may qualify for up to 20 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave to address certain military family needs, you may qualify for up to 26 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • In total, you may qualify for up to 26 combined weeks of leave in any benefit year.
    • You will receive up to 80% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage, up to a cap. There is a seven-day unpaid waiting period prior to receiving benefits.
    • Your employer must hold your job for you (and continue your health benefits, if you have them). You may also have job protection under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act (discussed below).
    • For more information about your rights under this law, see here.
  •  

Unpaid, Job-Protected Leave

The law may protect your job while you are taking leave due to pregnancy, childbirth, or to bond with a new child (including adopted and foster children).

  • If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it).
    • Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law. You must: 1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite; and 2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year; and 3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
    • If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for your own health (including pregnancy), to care for a new child after birth, adoption, or foster placement, or to care for a seriously ill family member. Remember that you only get 12 weeks a year in total—if you take time off before you give birth for your own health needs, you’ll have less time afterward to spend with your baby.
    • Before giving birth, you may use your leave an hour or day at a time—such as by taking a day off per week to go to the doctor—rather than all at once. Your employer must approve, however, if you want to use leave time in smaller chunks to bond with your baby.
    • While you are on leave, if you receive health insurance through your employer, you have the right to keep your health insurance benefits.
    • When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a very similar job, unless you fall into a narrow exception.
    • If you are in the top 10% of highest-paid workers in your company, different rules apply.
    • If you have accrued paid leave from your employer, you may choose to use that paid time off concurrently with your FMLA time. Your employer can also require you to use your paid leave—including paid vacation, personal, or sick days—while you are taking FMLA leave.
  • The Massachusetts Parental Leave Act (formerly called the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act) is very similar to the FMLA, but it only provides leave for birth or adoption.
    • The law applies to much smaller workplaces than the FMLA; most workplaces with 6 or more employees are covered.
    • You are covered if you have worked full-time for the same employer for at least 3 months.
    • If you are covered, you have a right to up to 8 weeks of unpaid leave for the purpose of giving birth or for the placement of a child under the age of 18, or under the age of 23 if the child is mentally or physically disabled, for adoption.
    • Both men and women are eligible for parental leave.
    • For more information, see here.
  • If your boss treats workers who take time off for childbirth differently from workers who take time off for other medical treatments (for example, they provide paid leave for workers recovering from surgery, but only unpaid leave for postpartum mothers), this could be illegal under the national Pregnancy Discrimination Act and/or the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act. Call A Better Balance if you think you are being treated unfairly.
  • Massachusetts’ Pregnant Workers Fairness Act may also give you the right to unpaid, job-protected time off work as a reasonable accommodation to physically recover from childbirth. See the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab for more information.

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

When you return to work as a new parent, you may still need a few extra breaks to pump breastmilk or time off to care for your baby when they’re sick. There are a few laws that can help you get back to work safely and still care for your family.

* Starting July 1, 2021, Massachusetts’s paid family and medical leave law will provide up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Benefits for boding with a new child and caring for your own serious health condition begin on January 1, 2021. See the “Time Off For Childbirth And Bonding” and “Caring For Your Own Medical Needs” tabs, respectively, for more information. In addition, benefits for military family needs begin on January 1, 2021. See the “Special Protections for Veterans’ and Military Families” subsection below for more information on your rights.

Returning from Childbirth 

Nursing Rights 

  • You have the right to express or pump milk at work. If you work for an employer with 6 or more employees, Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act gives you the right to reasonable break time each day and a private space (not a bathroom) to express milk, as well as other lactation accommodations such as temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position or breaks for increased food or water intake so long as it does not cause an undue hardship on the employer. See the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab for more information.
  • The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) gives some U.S. workers the right to take unpaid breaks at work to pump milk, and requires some employers to find a clean, private place that’s not a bathroom for employees to pump milk. This law only applies to workers and employers who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)— the law that sets minimum wage and overtime requirements.
  • Under the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, it is illegal for an employer with 6 or more employees to discriminate against you because you are lactating or need to express breastmilk. This may also be illegal under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
  • Under Massachusetts law, you have the right to breastfeed your child in any public location, not including churches and other houses of worship or religious instruction.
  • For more information about your nursing rights, click here.

Caring for Your Family: Family Illness and Caregiver Discrimination 

As a new parent, you may face discrimination at work or have problems taking time off when you or your baby is sick. These laws can help you balance your job and caring for your family.

  • If you are covered, the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law gives you the right to time off, without losing you job, if you need to recover from physical/mental illness or injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care.
    • If your employer has 11 or more employees, you have the right to earn and take up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.
    • If your employer has fewer than 11 employees, you have the right to earn and take up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year—meaning you can’t be fired or punished for taking it.
    • Under the law, you can take sick time to care for yourself or a child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse.
    • Under this law, you earn sick time at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours you work.
    • Sick time under this law can be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your dependent child are a victim of domestic violence.
    • For more information about your rights, see here.
  • The Massachusetts Small Necessities Act gives eligible Massachusetts workers the right to take unpaid time off to attend their children’s school activities, or take a relative to routine medical appointments.
    • You are covered if: 1) your workplace has 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite, 2) you have worked there for at least 1 year, and 3) you have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year (i.e., you must meet the requirements of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act).
    • If you are covered, you can take up to 24 hours of leave per year to participate in your child’s school activities or take a child or elderly relative to the doctor.
    • If your leave is foreseeable, you have to give seven days’ notice to your employer.
    • For more information, see here.
  • As of January 1, 2021, if you are covered, Massachusetts’ paid family and medical leave law allows you to take paid leave to address their own serious health condition (which can include pregnancy-related needs), bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption, or address certain military family needs. See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” tab for more information. * Starting July 1, 2021, this law will also provide up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
  • If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it). See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” tab for more information on this law. 
  • Some workers in Massachusetts are protected from caregiver discrimination.
    • If you work in Boston, you may be protected against discrimination because you are a parent.
    • If you work in Cambridge or Medford, you may be protected against discrimination because of your family status.
    • See here for a comprehensive list of localities that have outlawed caregiver discrimination. Note, however, that your city may have protections not listed in this chart. You may want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about rights in your city.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a person with a disability. For example, your boss can’t cut your hours because they think you can’t work as hard because you have a child with asthma. Or your boss cannot assume that you will cost more on the company’s health insurance plan because your family member is seriously ill.  However, this law does not give relatives of a person with a disability the right to accommodations, such as a schedule change, to help them provide care.
  • If you lose your job because you have family caregiving responsibilities, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance. For more information about how to apply, consult your state’s website. You may also want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about your eligibility.

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

 

When you are sick—be it with a bad cold or more serious illness or injury—you may need time off from work to rest and heal. Federal, state, and local laws may give you time off when you need it and protect you from employment discrimination.

Taking Time Off from Work

  • If you are covered, the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law gives you the right to time off, without losing you job, if you need to recover from physical/mental illness or injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care.
    • If your employer has 11 or more employees, you have the right to earn and take up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.
    • If your employer has fewer than 11 employees, you have the right to earn and take up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year—meaning you can’t be fired or punished for taking it.
    • Under this law, you earn sick time at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours you work.
    • Sick time under this law can be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your dependent child are a victim of domestic violence.
    • For more information about your rights, see here.
  • As of January 1, 2021, if you work in Massachusetts, you may be eligible for paid family and medical leave.
    • Employees covered by the state unemployment insurance law, except for some public employees, are covered under the paid family and medical leave law.
    • To qualify for benefits, you must have earned a minimum amount (currently, $4,700) during the base period and must meet an earnings requirement tied to your average earnings that, in effect, you must have worked at least 15 weeks. The base period is the last 4 completed quarters or the 3 most recent completed quarters and the portion of the current quarter that has already occurred. You can combine income from more than one employer.
    • This law provides paid leave to covered employees who need time off of work to address their own serious health condition (which can include pregnancy-related needs), bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption, or address certain military family needs. * Starting July 1, 2021, this law will also provide up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
    • If you are taking leave to bond with a new baby, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave because of your own serious health condition, you may qualify for up to 20 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave to address certain military family needs, you may qualify for up to 26 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • In total, you may qualify for up to 26 combined weeks of leave in any benefit year.
    • You will receive up to 80% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage, up to a cap. There is a seven-day unpaid waiting period prior to receiving benefits.
    • Your employer must hold your job for you (and continue your health benefits, if you have them). You may also have job protection under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act (discussed below).
    • For more information about your rights under this law, see here.
  • If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it).
    • Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law. You must: 1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite; and 2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year; and 3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
    • If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for your own serious medical needs, including those related to pregnancy and recovery from childbirth. You may also take the leave on an intermittent basis or may work on a reduced schedule.
    • While you are on leave, if you receive health insurance through your employer, you have the right to keep your health insurance benefits.
    • When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a very similar job, unless you fall into a narrow exception.
    • If you have accrued paid leave from your employer, you may choose to use that paid time off concurrently with your FMLA time. Your employer can also require you to use your paid leave—including paid vacation, personal, or sick days—while you are taking FMLA leave.
    • For more information about the Family and Medical Leave Act, see here.
  • If you were hurt while working or became sick as a result of your job, you may also be entitled to paid benefits and other protections through Workers’ Compensation.
  • If you lose your job due to your own medical needs, and are able to continue working, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance. For more information about how to apply, consult your state’s website. You may also want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about your eligibility.

Reasonable Accommodations and Anti-Discrimination Laws

  • The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act bans disability discrimination at workplaces with 6 or more employees. Should your disability require some changes to your position, your boss must provide you with a reasonable accommodation so that you can perform your job, unless it would be very difficult or expensive for them to do so. A reasonable accommodation can include anything from changes to your workspace to modifying your work schedule to restructuring your job. For more information, see here.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers in the U.S. with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities and makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers with disabilities. Disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, which can include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. This means:
    • Your boss cannot fire you, refuse to give you a promotion, or harass you because you have a disability.
    • If you have a disability, your boss cannot refuse to give you small changes at work that you need to stay healthy, like breaks to take medication, temporary relief from heavy lifting, or a stool to sit on during your shift. These changes are called “reasonable accommodations” and are available as long as you can still complete the basic duties of your job with those changes. Your boss does not have to give you an accommodation that would be very difficult or expensive, like building a whole new office.

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

When a child or family member gets sick or injured—be it with a bad cold or a more serious illness or injury—you may need to take some time off from work to care for them. Federal, state, and local laws may give you time off when you need it and protect you from employment discrimination.

* Starting July 1, 2021, Massachusetts’s paid family and medical leave law will provide up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Benefits for boding with a new child and caring for your own serious health condition begin on January 1, 2021. See the “Time Off For Childbirth And Bonding” and “Caring For Your Own Medical Needs” tabs, respectively, for more information. In addition, benefits for military family needs begin on January 1, 2021. See the “Special Protections for Veterans’ and Military Families” subsection below for more information on your rights.

Taking Time Off from Work

  • If you are covered, the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law gives you the right to time off, without losing you job, if you need to recover from physical/mental illness or injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care.
    • If your employer has 11 or more employees, you have the right to earn and take up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.
    • If your employer has fewer than 11 employees, you have the right to earn and take up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year—meaning you can’t be fired or punished for taking it.
    • Under the law, you can take sick time to care for yourself or a child, spouse, parent, or parent of a spouse.
    • Under this law, you earn sick time at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours you work.
    • Sick time under this law can be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your dependent child are a victim of domestic violence.
    • For more information about your rights, see here.
  • If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it). See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” section above for more information on this law.
    • Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law. To qualify, you must (1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite; and (2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year; and (3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
    • If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for a seriously ill family member. Under the FMLA, covered family members include a worker’s son or daughter under the age of 18 (or an adult child unable to care for him or herself due to a physical or mental disability), spouse, and parent.
    • The FMLA defines “son or daughter” to include a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis. For more information about protections the FMLA provides for LGBT families, see here.
    • You may also take the leave on an intermittent basis or may work on a reduced schedule to care for a seriously ill family member.
    • While you are on leave, if you receive health insurance through your employer, you have the right to keep your health insurance benefits.
    • When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a very similar job, unless you fall into a narrow exception.
    • If you have accrued paid leave from your employer, you may choose to use that paid time off concurrently with your FMLA time. Your employer can also require you to use your paid leave—including paid vacation, personal, or sick days—while you are taking FMLA leave. For more information about the Family and Medical Leave Act, see here.
  • If you lose your job because you have family caregiving responsibilities, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance. For more information about how to apply, consult your state’s website. You may also want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about your eligibility.

Special Protections for Veterans’ and Military Families

  • As of January 1, 2021, if you work in Massachusetts and have a family member who is an active service member, you may have the right to paid leave for certain military family needs if you are covered under Massachusetts’ paid family and medical leave
    • Employees covered by the state unemployment insurance law, except for some public employees, are covered under the paid family and medical leave law.
    • To qualify for benefits, you must have earned a minimum amount (currently, $4,700) during the base period and must meet an earnings requirement tied to your average earnings that, in effect, you must have worked at least 15 weeks. The base period is the last 4 completed quarters or the 3 most recent completed quarters and the portion of the current quarter that has already occurred. You can combine income from more than one employer.
    • If you are covered, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave per year for a “qualifying exigency.”
      • “Qualifying exigency” is defined as a need arising out of a covered individual’s family member’s active duty service or notice of an impending call or order to active duty in the Armed Forces, including, but not limited to:
        • providing for the care or other needs of the military member’s child or other family member;
        • making financial or legal arrangements for the military member, attending counseling;
        • attending military events or ceremonies;
        • spending time with the military member during a rest and recuperation leave or following return from deployment; or
        • making arrangements following the death of the military member.
      • If you are covered, you may be eligible for up to 26 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member who is a current member of the Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves, who is:
        • Undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy for a serious health condition that was received or aggravated while they were deployed in a foreign country
        • In outpatient status for a serious health condition that was received or aggravated while they were deployed in a foreign country
        • On the temporary disability retired list for a serious injury or illness that happened while deployed in a foreign country
        • On the temporary disability retired list for a serious injury or illness that existed before the beginning of the member’s active duty, and was aggravated by service while deployed in a foreign country
      • “Family member” is defined as the spouse, domestic partner, child, parent or parent of a spouse or domestic partner of the covered individual; a person who stood in loco parentis to the covered individual when the covered individual was a minor child; or a grandchild, grandparent or sibling of the covered individual.
      • In total, you may qualify for up to 26 combined weeks of leave a year under this law.
      • You will receive up to 80% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage and 50% of a worker’s average weekly wage above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage, up to a cap. There is a seven-day unpaid waiting period prior to receiving benefits.
      • Your employer must hold your job for you (and continue your health benefits, if you have them). You may also have job protection under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (discussed below).
      • For more information about this law, see here or here, or see the section in this tab entitled “Taking Time off Work.”
  • If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and a close family member is, or was, in the Armed Services, you may be entitled to additional protections under the FMLA.
  • The FMLA provides special protections for service-connected injuries or illnesses. If you are the spouse, parent, son, daughter, or next-of-kin of a veteran or a member of the Armed Services, including the National Guard and Reserves, you may be able to take military caregiver leave. You can take up to a total of 26 weeks of unpaid leave a year to take care of your military relative if he or she has a serious injury or illness stemming from his or her military service.
  • In addition to the ordinary protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act, if you have a parent, child, or spouse on or called to active duty service in a foreign country, you may be eligible for what is called “qualifying exigency” leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to address certain needs arising out of that active duty service. This leave allows you to take up to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year.
    • This leave is available to address many different types of needs, including:
      • tending to the needs of the children of a service member, such as arranging childcare, attending meetings, or enrolling the child in a new school
      • making legal or financial arrangements for a military member
      • spending time with a servicemember on a short-term rest and recuperation leave
      • arranging care for the parent of a servicemember when the parent is unable to care for himself or herself.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

  • Some workers in Massachusetts are protected from caregiver discrimination.
    • If you work in Boston, you may be protected from discrimination based on your parental status.
    • If you work in Cambridge or Medford, you may be protected from discrimination based on your family status.
    • See here for a comprehensive list of localities that have outlawed caregiver discrimination. Note, however, that your city may have protections not listed in this chart. You may want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about rights in your city.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a person with a disability. For example, your boss can’t cut your hours because they think you can’t work as hard because you have a child with asthma. Or your boss cannot assume that you will cost more on the company’s health insurance plan because your family member is seriously ill.  However, this law does not give relatives of a person with a disability the right to accommodations, such as a schedule change, to help them provide care.

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

© A Better Balance

Please note that this state-by-state guide is not intended to provide an exhaustive overview of any one law described. It is possible that other provisions may apply to your specific circumstances or category of employment.

Note also that the information contained in this guide does not constitute legal advice. It is always advisable to consult with an attorney about your individual circumstances if you have questions or think your rights as a worker have been violated.

If you have additional questions about your rights, you can contact our free, confidential legal helpline.

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