Recent Developments in Work/Life Issues: Important Information for Massachusetts Employers

August 19, 2010

Massachusetts employers should be aware that there have
been significant developments to the laws affecting work/life issues –
and more appear to be on the way:

1. Recent Decision
Limits Massachusetts
Maternity Leave Act To Eight Weeks

On August
9, 2010, in Global NAPS, Inc. v. Awiszus,
., the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts clarified the reach of
the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA). In a victory for employers, the
SJC limited the statute’s scope to providing no more than eight weeks of leave,
the amount expressly mentioned in the statute. The SJC rejected a broader
interpretation of the statute advanced by the Massachusetts Commission Against
Discrimination (MCAD), which would have required employers to provide lengthier
leave under certain circumstances. The plaintiff in this case claimed that her
employer violated the MMLA by not holding her job open for 12 weeks, alleging
that she took extended leave only because her employer had approved it. The SJC
determined that notwithstanding the MCAD guidelines to the contrary, an
employee had no right to restoration rights after eight weeks of leave, regardless
of the company’s promise. The court
found that the employee’s rights, if any, lie at common law. The decision is
significant in that it curtails an employer’s potential liability – under the
statute, an employee can recover emotional distress and punitive damages and
attorneys’ fees; under common law these are not available.

NOTE: The Family Medical
Leave Act (FMLA), requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks’ leave for
certain qualifying conditions, including for childbirth. There is often confusion about the interplay
between the MMLA and the FMLA for childbirth leave. Although the FMLA appears
to provide longer coverage (12 weeks vs. 8), there are many times where the
FMLA does not apply, or where an employee has utilized some or all of his/her
FMLA time for other reasons, and where the MMLA then would provide further
leave entitlement. Massachusetts
employers need to be aware of the provisions of both laws.

2. New Fact Sheet On Lactation Accommodation Available

Employers must
now provide nursing mothers with a “lactation accommodation.” To satisfy this requirement, employers must
provide privacy, other than in a bathroom, and unpaid break time for nursing
mothers to express breast milk for one year following the birth of a child.
Nursing women are entitled to take lactation breaks as often as needed
throughout the day. Employers with fewer than 50 employees need not comply with
this requirement if doing so would cause “undue hardship.” This requirement was
enacted as part of the recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act. Although the Department of Labor
has yet to issue regulations interpreting the new law, in July it issued a “fact
sheet” which you can view by clicking here.

3. Proposed Legislation Would Impose Leave and Flex Time

Over the
past year, several bills have been filed at the federal level that that could affect
paid leave and other employment benefits. Under the proposed Working Families Flexibility Act,
employers with 15 or more employees would be required to provide employees who
work a minimum of 1,000 hours per year the right to request work flexibility to
balance the demands of work and home life. The bill’s provisions mandate
negotiations regarding working hours, location and schedule. Also on the
legislative docket, the proposed Healthy
and Paid Vacation Acts would
require employers to provide employees with at least minimum paid sick time and
vacation leave.

If you
would like more information about the latest developments in work/life issues,
please contact Employment Group Chair Daniel S. Tarlow at or 617 456 8013.

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