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.

For more information about how these laws may apply in context of COVID-19, visit abetterbalance.org/covid19

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Rhode Island

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 

There are several laws that provide time off that may help you care for your own health/medical needs, depending on whether your needs are short-term or long-term.

Paid Sick & Safe Time

A paid sick time law typically provides short-term time off, often in increments of hours or days. Sick time can typically be used if you need time off because you have a shorter-term illness (such as a bad cold), you need to attend a medical appointment be it for illness or preventative care, you need to care for a loved one who is ill, or you need to address needs related to domestic violence. 

If you work in Rhode Island, the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act 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 you work for an employer with 18 or more workers, you have the right to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.
    • If you work for an employer with fewer than 18 workers, you have the right to earn up to 40 hours of unpaid, job-protected time off per year.
    • You earn sick time at the rate of one hour for every 35 hours you work.
    • Sick time under this law can be used when your place of work or child’s school/place of care is closed by public health officials for a public health emergency.
    • Sick time can also be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your family member is a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking.
    • For more information about your rights, see here and here.

Paid Family & Medical Leave
Paid family and medical leave is usually a longer-term leave of up to a few months (though can often be taken in smaller increments) if you need to bond with a new child, have a serious health condition, are caring for a loved one with a serious health condition, or have certain military family needs.

If you work in Rhode Island, you can get some cash benefits while you are unable to work because of a serious, off-the-job illness or injury under Rhode Island’s Temporary Disability Insurance program, which covers most workers.

    • You can receive TDI benefits for up to 30 weeks per year. The benefit amount is about 60% of your average weekly wage (formally, 4.62% of your wages in the highest quarter of the base year), up to a cap that is adjusted each year.
    • While on TDI, you also may be eligible for a “dependents’ allowance,” which increases your benefit for each of your dependent children under age 18. You also may be able to receive partial benefits, if your pregnancy or postpartum disability limits you to part-time work.
    • This program does not give you the right to return to your job after receiving benefits. However, you may have job protection under other laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA).
    • For more information, see here and here.
Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

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.

Rhode Island has a law that is similar to the FMLA but may provide slightly longer leave—the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA).

    • You are eligible if: 1) You work for any city, town, or municipal agency with 30 or more employees, any private employer with 50 or more employees, or the state; and 2) you have worked for your employer for 12 months; and 3) you have worked at least 1,560 hours with that employer in the past 12 months (this is slightly more hours than what is required by the FMLA).
    • If you are covered by the RIPFMLA, you have the right to 13 weeks (rather than 12 under the FMLA) of unpaid, job-protected leave every two years (rather than every 1 year under the FMLA).
    • You can use these 13 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child, a family member’s serious illness (including a parent, husband, wife, domestic partner, child, or mother- or father-in-law), or to recover from your own serious illness.
    • If your leave is covered under both the FMLA and RIPFMLA, then your leave will count against the time off permitted under both laws.

Other Laws that May Provide Time Off

  • If you were hurt while working or became sick as a result of your job, you may be entitled to paid benefits and other protections through Workers’ Compensation.
  • If you lose your job due to your own medical needs, 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 Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act bans disability discrimination at workplaces with 4 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.
  • 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 cover 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.

Taking Time Off from Work

 Paid Sick & Safe Time

A paid sick time law typically provides short-term time off, often in increments of hours or days. Sick time can typically be used if you need time off because you have a shorter-term illness (such as a bad cold), you need to attend a medical appointment be it for illness or preventative care, you need to care for a loved one who is ill, or you need to address needs related to domestic violence. 

If you work in Rhode Island, the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act 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 you work for an employer with 18 or more workers, you have the right to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.
    • If you work for an employer with fewer than 18 workers, you have the right to earn up to 40 hours of unpaid, job-protected time off per year.
    • Under the law, you can take sick time to care for yourself or a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, sibling, care recipient, or member of your household.
    • You earn sick time at the rate of one hour for every 35 hours you work.
    • Sick time under this law can be used when your place of work or child’s school/place of care is closed by public health officials for a public health emergency.
    • Sick time can also be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your family member is a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking.
    • For more information about your rights, see here and here.

Paid Family & Medical Leave
Paid family and medical leave is usually a longer-term leave of up to a few months (though can often be taken in smaller increments) if you need to bond with a new child, have a serious health condition, are caring for a loved one with a serious health condition, or have certain military family needs.

If you work in Rhode Island, you are likely eligible for the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program. This program provides payments for up to 4 weeks when you need to care for a new child during the first 12 months after birth or placement for adoption or foster care, or to care for a family member (including a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent) with a serious health condition.

    • Like TDI, the TCI benefit is calculated at about 60% of your average weekly wage, up to a cap that is adjusted each year.
    • Your employer must allow you to return to your same, or a similar, position when you return from TCI leave.
    • Partial benefits for persons returning to work part-time are not available under the TCI program.
    • For more information, see here and here.
Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

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.

Rhode Island has a law that is similar to the FMLA but may provide slightly longer leave—the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA).

    • You are eligible if 1) You work for any city, town, or municipal agency with 30 or more employees, any private employer with 50 or more employees, or the state; and 2) you have worked for your employer for 12 months; and 3) you have worked at least 1,560 hours with that employer in the past 12 months (this is slightly more hours than what is required by the FMLA).
    • If you are covered by the RIPFMLA, you have the right to 13 weeks (rather than 12 under the FMLA) of unpaid, job-protected leave every two years (rather than every 1 year under the FMLA).
    • You can use these 13 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child, a family member’s serious illness (including a parent, husband, wife, domestic partner, child, or mother- or father-in-law), or to recover from your own serious illness.
    • If your leave is covered under both the FMLA and RIPFMLA, then your leave will count against the time off permitted under both laws.

Other Laws that May Provide Time Off

  • 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

 Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

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.

If you are covered under the Rhode Island Military Family Relief Act and are the spouse or parent of a person called to military service lasting longer than 30 days, you have a right to take unpaid time off for up to 15 days during the time federal or state orders are in effect.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a person with disabilities. 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.

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 to take time off for recovery. U.S., Rhode Island, 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 a pregnancy loss. That means:
    • Your boss can’t fire you or cut your hours when they find 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 Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act also bans pregnancy and childbirth discrimination, and applies to workplaces with 4 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 Rhode Island’s pregnancy accommodation law, if you work for an employer with 4 or more employees you are entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” because of your pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition (including the need to express breast milk), 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 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.
    • Examples of accommodations explicitly covered by the law include more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor, and modified work schedules.
    • For more information, see here.
  • The cities of Providence and Central Falls have their own pregnancy accommodations laws. If you work in Providence for an employer with 7 or more employees, you are covered. For more information, see here. If you work in Central Falls for an employer of any size, you are covered. For more information, see here.
  • If you are covered under the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act you may be able to use your accrued paid time off for medical needs while pregnant, e.g., for a prenatal appointment. For more information about this law, see the “Caring for Your Own Medical Needs” tab.
  • If you are not covered by any of Rhode Island’s pregnancy accommodations laws (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:
    • 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 Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Actalso bans disability discrimination, and covers workplaces with 4 or more employees.
  • If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Actor the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA), 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 on these laws and see this guide to your workplace rights around miscarriage.
  • Rhode Island’s pregnancy accommodation laws (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 paid leave and/or unpaid leave during pregnancy, childbirth, and to bond with a new child under Rhode Island law. 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

  • Birth mothers who work in Rhode Island can get some cash benefits while they are unable to work because of pregnancy and childbirth under Rhode Island’s Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program, which covers most workers.
    • You can receive TDI benefits for up to 30 weeks per year. The benefit amount is about 60% of your average weekly wage (formally, 4.62% of your wages in the highest quarter of the base year), up to a cap that is adjusted each year.
    • While on TDI, you also may be eligible for a “dependents’ allowance,” which increases your benefit for each of your dependent children under age 18. You also may be able to receive partial benefits, if your pregnancy or postpartum disability limits you to part-time work.
    • This program does not give you the right to return to your job after receiving benefits. However, you may have job protection under other laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA), (discussed below).
    • For more information, see here and here.
  • If you work in Rhode Island, you are also likely eligible for the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program. This program provides payments for up to 4 weeks when you need to care for a new child during the first 12 months after birth or placement for adoption or foster care, or to care for a family member (including a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent) with a serious health condition.
    • Like TDI, the TCI benefit is calculated at about 60% of your average weekly wage, up to a cap that is adjusted each year.
    • Your employer must allow you to return to your same, or a similar, position when you return from TCI leave.
    • Partial benefits for persons returning to work part-time are not available under the TCI program.
    • For more information, see here and 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.
  • Rhode Island has a law that is similar to the FMLA but may provide slightly longer leave— the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA).
    • You are eligible if: 1) You work for any city, town, or municipal agency with 30 or more employees, any private employer with 50 or more employees, or the state; and 2) you have worked for your employer for 12 months; and 3) you have worked at least 1,560 hours with that employer in the past 12 months (this is slightly more hours than what is required by the FMLA).
    • If you are covered by the RIPFMLA, you have the right to 13 weeks (rather than 12 under the FMLA) of unpaid, job-protected leave every two years (rather than every 1 year under the FMLA).
    • You can use these 13 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child, a family member’s serious illness (including a parent, husband, wife, domestic partner, child, or mother- or father-in-law), or to recover from your own serious illness.
    • If your leave is covered under both the FMLA and RIPFMLA, then your leave will count against the time off permitted under both laws.
  • 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 give most workers 2 weeks off for surgery but only 1 week for childbirth), this could be illegal under the national Pregnancy Discrimination Act and/or the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act. Call A Better Balance if you think you are being treated unfairly.

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.

Returning from Childbirth

  • If you are disabled for a period of time after childbirth, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, discussed in the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab, may apply.
    • If so, you may be able to get an accommodation at work, such as light duty, while you recover.
  • Even if you are not disabled, Rhode Island’s pregnancy accommodations laws discussed in the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab, may give you a right to accommodations while you recover from childbirth.

Nursing Rights 

  • If you work for an employer with 4 or more employees, Rhode Island’s pregnancy accommodations law (discussed in the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab above), gives you the right to break time and a private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, as long as it does not impose an “undue hardship” on your employer.
  • Rhode Island’s Nursing Working Mothers law may also give you the right to reasonable unpaid break time in an area other than a toilet stall to pump breast milk or breastfeed your child—but note that this statute is worded in an odd way; it says employers “may” provide this break time but doesn’t seem to require them to. On the other hand, it says that an employer “shall” make reasonable efforts to provide an employee with a clean, private space to express breast milk or breastfeed her child. If you are having difficulties nursing at work, consult a lawyer about this confusing law.
  • National laws may also protect your right to nurse or pump milk at work.
    • 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.
  • It may be illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act for your boss to punish or discriminate against you because you are lactating.
  • Under Rhode Island law, you have the right to breastfeed your child in any public or private location.
  • 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 work in Rhode Island, the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act 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 you work for an employer with 18 or more workers, you have the right to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.
    • If you work for an employer with fewer than 18 workers, you have the right to earn up to 40 hours of unpaid, job-protected time off per year.
    • Under the law, you can take sick time to care for yourself or a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, sibling, care recipient, or member of your household.
    • You earn sick time at the rate of one hour for every 35 hours you work.
    • Sick time under this law can be used when your place of work or child’s school/place of care is closed by public health officials for a public health emergency.
    • Sick time can also be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your family member is a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking.
    • For more information about your rights, see here and here.
  • Under the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA), you may be eligible to take school involvement leave to attend your child’s school conferences or other school-related activities.
    • You are eligible if you meet the requirements of the RIPFMLA, discussed in the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” tab.
    • If you are covered, you have the right to take up to 10 hours of unpaid leave per year. You must provide your employer at least 24 hours of notice.
  • If your employer allows workers to use sick time or sick leave after the birth of their child, you must be allowed to use sick time in connection with adopting a child under the age of sixteen.
  • 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).
  • If you work in Rhode Island and need time off because your baby or other family member has a more serious health issue, you are also likely eligible for the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program. This program provides payments for up to 4 weeks when you need to care for a new child during the first 12 months after birth or placement for adoption or foster care, or to care for a family member (including a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent) with a serious health condition.
    • Like TDI, the TCI benefit is calculated at about 60% of your average weekly wage, up to a cap that is adjusted each year.
    • Your employer must allow you to return to your same, or a similar, position when you return from TCI leave.
    • Partial benefits for persons returning to work part-time are not available under the TCI program.
    • For more information, see here and here.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a person with disabilities. 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.

© 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. Please be aware that if you are contemplating taking legal action, most laws have something called a “statute of limitations,” which means that you have to take action within a certain period of time following the violation. 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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