Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act: No Help for Mamas on Bedrest

August 11th, 2010

On August 9, 2010, the Masschusetts Supreme Court ruled that the maximum amount of time a woman may be absent from her full time job for the purposes of delivering a child or adopting a child and still be guaranteed her position is 8 weeks. The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit involving a housekeeper who took 10 weeks of maternity leave and was subsequently fired from her job. She sued her employer and  received more than $1million in settlement. What this ruling doesn’t do is make any provisions for women experiencing high risk pregnancies, mamas on bedrest.

The ruling is seen as a victory for businesses who have long contended that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the governing body for the law, often rules too harshly against businesses while giving broad leeway to employees.

In a 4-to-3 ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court said the 1972 law guarantees full-time employees eight weeks off to give birth or to adopt a child, after which they are entitled to return to the same job or a comparable one. Beyond that, however, the law does not protect them.

Once a female employee is absent from employment for more than eight weeks, she is no longer within the purview of the [Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act] and, consequently, is not afforded the protections conferred by the statute,’’ Justice Francis X. Spina wrote for the majority.

Upon first hearing of the ruling, I was outraged. 8 weeks leave is nothing, especially if a woman is high risk. She can easily blow through 8 weeks of leave on bed rest! However, The Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act is very specific. The 8 weeks is for delivery of the baby only. If a woman has complications prior to her delivery, then she is entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (provided she is a full time employee, the company has more than 50 employees and she has fulfilled any probationary time or preliminary benefit requirements) as mandated in the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The two laws can overlap and a woman can actually take 12 weeks of unpaid leave under FML,  and, if she delivers within that time at say 11 weeks, then be entitled to 8 more weeks of unpaid leave for the delivery of her child. Additionally, if a woman has saved paid time off, she can also use that time to extend her leave.

So while I am feeling a tad better about MMLA, there is still the underlying issue that is nagging in the back of my mind-women are still being forced to choose between their own health and the health of their unborn babies and the needs of their families. Even in the best of circumstances, many women are not physically ready to return to work in 8 weeks. Many newborn infants have not yet established solid breastfeeding habits and most infants are awake most of the night. So we have a new mother whose body is recovering from the rigors of pregnancy, labor and delivery, who may be trying to breastfeed, who is up at all hours with her newborn, who may be suffering from the baby blues or frank post partum depression and is stressed because if she doesn’t pull it together and get back to work, she will lose even more income and quite possibly her job. And this is in a “good” scenario, one in which the woman had an uncomplicated pregnancy and a normal, uneventful vaginal labor and delivery. We haven’t even begun to discuss women who may have had pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, cesarean sections, who may have hemorrhaged after delivery or who develope infections post partum. We haven’t included women who go into preterm labor and who delivered premature infants who stay in the NICU for months, have medical problems and a long and complicated road ahead of then. As anyone who has been in any one or a combination of the aforementioned scenarios, It can be weeks to months for mama to fully recover from her pregnancy, all the while she may not have any income, her family may be facing financial ruin and she is completely at odds about what to do; care for her own health and the health of her newborn or risk the security of the entire family if she cannot return to work. Most women will return to work and attempt to deal with any physical, medical or emotional fall out later.

I wonder if employers ever stopped to consider the fact that they could dramatically increase productivity and employee retention of they would give more support to mamas. Currently the United states is one of few if not the only developed nation that offers no paid maternity leave. We are one of the only nations that doesn’t routinely provide childcare assistance to families in the form of onsite childcare centers and school allowances. We boldly proclaim, “No Child Left Behind!” Yet fail to realize that failure to support new and expectant mothers by default leaves their children behind-especially when mama delivers an infant with medical and/or developmental problems. 

The United States can do better. Paid leave is not an impossibility nor is it “too expensive” a benefit. Consider this, if the same woman, months after delivering her child were to need a knee replacement, she would be allowed the time off and most likely would have some sort of financial compensation-even if it is a percentage of her income. If we can pay to fix her knee, shouldn’t it be that we pay for her to give birth?

But in the end, we women, especially we mamas on bed rest, are going to have to make our voices heard. I highly doubt that our predominently male leadership has ever considered the physical, emotional and financial toll having a baby places on a woman and her family. So it is up to us to bring this matter to their attention and to press them to make beneficial decisions on our behalf. Like all other social issues in our history (Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights and Title 9) change will only come if we demand it and it’s high time that we make the needs of mamas on bed rest known and demand that those needs be met.

How did your fund your maternity leave? What were the challenges you faced? Share your story in our comments section below. 

Please pass this post onto other mamas. We all need to be aware of what our lawmakers and those supposed to be advocating on our behalf are doing. We have to be the change that we seek.

3 responses to “Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act: No Help for Mamas on Bedrest”

  1. Scott Behren says:

    For more information on women’s rights in the workplace under Title VII, FMLA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, feel free to check out our employee rights’s blog at http://www.takethisjobnshoveitblog.com.

  2. Darline says:

    Thanks so much, Scott. We are working with other organizations to push for paid maternity leave and to reduce pregnancy discrimination. Will definitely check out your website and may enlist your help!!

  3. This very blog is obviously entertaining as well as amusing. I have chosen helluva handy tips out of this amazing blog. I’d love to come back over and over again. Thanks a bunch!

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