In addition to the leave provided by your employer’s discretionary policies on vacation time, sick leave, personal days, or paid time off (PTO), you may have a legal right to take time off work for specific reasons under federal and Massachusetts laws. For example, if you are caring for an ailing family member or recovering from childbirth, you may have a right to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Massachusetts law provides additional leave rights, including the right to time off for parental leave, military leave, domestic violence, and more.
This article provides an overview of your right to time off from work in Massachusetts. For more information, see our page on employee leave rights.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a seriously ill family member (spouse, parent, or child), recuperate from their own serious health conditions, bond with a new child, or handle certain practical matters arising from a family member’s military service. The FMLA also requires employers to give employees up to 26 weeks off to care for a family member who suffered or exacerbated a serious illness or injury while serving in the military. (For purposes of this military family leave provision only, employees may take leave to care for a broader set of family members, including siblings, grandparents, and cousins, if they are next of kin to an injured service member.)
The FMLA applies to employers in all states with at least 50 employees. Employees are eligible only if they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave. (Learn much more about your rights under the FMLA at our Taking Family and Medical Leave page.)
Some states have created laws that provide employees with leave for family and medical reasons. Sometimes these laws overlap with the FMLA and don’t create additional rights. Often, however, state law applies to a wider set of employers, has more relaxed eligibility requirements for employees, or covers a broader set of family members. In Massachusetts, employees have the right to take time off for pregnancy disability, military family leave, and a child's school activities.
Another federal law, the Unformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) gives eligible employees the right to be reinstated to their jobs after taking up to five years off for service in the U.S. military. (Find out all about USERRA in Nolo's article, Taking Military Leave.) Employers may not discriminate against employees based on their military service. And, employees may be fired only for good cause for a period of up to one year after they return from service, even if they would otherwise work at will. (See Employment At Will: What Does It Mean? to learn more.)
The laws of many states extend similar rights to employees who serve in the state’s military, including the right to take time off from work and to be reinstated afterwards. Massachusetts has passed this type of law, making employees who are members of the Armed Forces eligible for the same protections afforded by USERRA. State law also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their membership in the military, application to perform military service, or obligation to perform military duties.
Massachusetts law also gives employees the right to take time off work, without fear of retaliation, for the civic responsibilities of voting and serving on a jury. For voting, employers must allow employees to take off the first two hours when the polls are open. This law applies to employees in the mechanical, retail, or manufacturing industries.
Employers must allow employees to take time off to serve on a jury. All employees (including part-time and temporary employees who were scheduled to work for the 3 months preceding jury service) must receive their regular wages for the first three days of jury duty. If paid leave is an "extreme financial hardship" for the employer, the state will pay. After the first three days of jury service, the state will pay employees up to $50 per day.
Beyond this, time off to serve on a jury is unpaid. However, special rules apply to exempt employees. Under federal law, employers typically cannot deduct an exempt, salaried employee’s pay for time spent serving on a jury, unless the employee did no work for the entire week. For more information, see our article on pay docking.
In Massachusetts, employers with at least 50 employees must give employees who are victims of domestic violence or other similar crimes time off to:
Employees are entitled to this leave if they are victims of sexual assault, kidnapping, stalking, or domestic violence, or they are the family members of such victims. Employees may take up to 15 days off in a 12-month period.