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Maternity leave & unpaid furlough (Massachusetts)

On Lawyer & Legal » Employment & Labor Law

4,573 words with 3 Comments; publish: Wed, 08 Jul 2009 14:59:00 GMT; (80062.50, « »)

I'm pregnant, I work for a small Massachusetts company (less than 25 employees), and I'm due on December 1. The company had no maternity policy in place when I got pregnant, and the one they've put in place gives me the 8 unpaid weeks I'm entitled to under Massachusetts law, and my vacation time (11 days). Nothing else. When I asked about using my sick days, I was initially told that "the personnel committee feels strongly that being pregnant doesn't qualify as being sick" and I would not be allowed to use them. I wrote a very civil & professional letter clarifying that I didn't want to use the days while pregnant, I wanted to be able to use them after giving birth, MMLA says women CAN use sick days as part of their leave, and that our company's existing sick day policy covers "medical treatments" which I felt therefore qualified. They reluctantly agreed to let me use them (because, as they basically put it "we should have changed the sick day policy sooner to preclude using those days for maternity leave" - how nice of them) BUT that I can only use them as part of my 8 weeks leave (ie. I can use them to be paid for those 7 days of my leave, but I can't add them TO my 8 weeks leave, to extend it). I thought this was pretty crummy of them, but fine, whatever.

So, the next hurdle: we were told a few months ago that all employees would have to take one unpaid furlough week in the next fiscal year, and that we'd be able to take it any time we like, as long as it was for one full week at a time. I figured I would add it to the end of my maternity leave. Then, a few days ago, we received letters telling us that everyone HAS to take the furlough week at the same time, the week between Christmas and New Year's when, as it happens, I will already be out on maternity leave. I asked if the furlough would be rolled into my maternity leave or if it would be separate (giving me, as I'd hoped, 9 weeks unpaid leave). I was told it would be rolled into my leave.

As it is, I've already felt very nickel & dimed on this whole arrangement (they're basically doing everything they can to keep my maternity leave as short as they can get away with), and I'm pretty furious that they decided to force us to take the furlough when THEY want us to (presenting a particular financial hardship to some employees, right around the holidays) and now I realize it was no doubt half because it keeps ME from taking an additional week of maternity leave that they know I want to have. (I come from Canada where everyone gets a year of paid maternity leave so 8 weeks seems criminal to me, but I understand that's just how it is here, and it's a choice I made, to have a child in this country). So of course my question is: if they have to give me 8 weeks unpaid leave, by Massachusetts law, can they legally cut into those 8 weeks with their own forced, involuntary furlough, and give me only 7 weeks of actual maternity leave?


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    • I'm going to tiptoe through this because I'm not all that familiar with MA law. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.

      If they allow someone else with a similar medical issue to use their sick days while on leave, they must allow you to do the same. It sounds like they are, so that's not an issue.

      It's quite common to have people use their sick days/vacation/PTO during their leave and NOT in addition to it. Those days are used to help pay you where you would not normally be paid. Completely within their right, and again, pretty common for most businesses.

      The company is allowed to designate whatever week they want to be the furlough. It's probably much easier for them to designate the same week for everyone rather than try to keep track of which employees are taking which weeks off and if it's for the furlough or other reasons. They are not required to give you an extra week for your leave because the furlough falls during the same time frame, and most businesses wouldn't.

      Hope this helps a little.

      #1; Wed, 08 Jul 2009 15:30:00 GMT
    • So it's not illegal so much as just a sh*tty thing to do? :)
      #2; Wed, 08 Jul 2009 15:40:00 GMT
    • You are entitled under the law to 8 weeks off. Period. The law does not require that they increase the 8 weeks by any paid leave you have available. The law specifically gives you the right to substitute part of the unpaid leave by any sick or vacation time you may have (and specifically prohibits the employer from forcing you to use it) but does not give you the right to add that leave to the 8 weeks unless your employer chooses to allow it.
      #3; Wed, 08 Jul 2009 17:33:00 GMT