Q: My husband and I are planning to have a baby in 2013. I don't think my employer has ever had to deal with a maternity leave in our office. I know there are laws out there. But what are they? Do they only apply to just some employers or just some employees? I live and work in Massachusetts.
A: You are wise to research internal and external maternity leave policies and laws before you have a baby. It is helpful to know exactly what your benefits are before you apply for a leave of absence.
There are a number of factors that could influence how your employer handles such a leave. In Massachusetts, one factor is company size. If your company has six or more employees, your employer must comply with the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA). In short, MMLA requires employers with six or more employees to provide eight weeks of leave for the birth of child. The employee must have completed the company's probationary period if the company has such policy. If your employer is larger than 50 employees, you also might be eligible for a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Both the MMLA and the FMLA have "time off" requirements. However, pay is not required. You would need to research how pay works for leaves at your company. You may have disability policies in place, which may provide you with some pay during your leave. You also may have vacation, sick or personal time which could be used during your leave.
MMLA also requires your employer to restore you to the same or similar position when you return from your leave of absence. For more information, visit http://www.mass.gov/mcad/maternity1.html. This link provides a comprehensive overview of how most Massachusetts employers must provide time off to eligible employees for leaves associated with a birth of a child. For more information about the FMLA, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/.
You should also consider reviewing your company's employee handbook (if one exists), employee benefits summary or summary plan descriptions for benefits plans. The more information you have, the better.