On January 7, 2015, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law An Act Relative to Parental Leave (Parental Leave Act). Effective April 7, 2015, the new law essentially makes the existing Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA) gender neutral, so that the protections under the MMLA apply equally to both men and women. The Massachusetts Parental Leave Act also extends benefits to the placement of a child pursuant to a court order, in addition to coverage for birth and adoption, both of which protections are covered for women under the MMLA.
The Massachusetts Parental Leave Act requires employers with six or more employees to provide eligible employees with 8 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Full-time employees become eligible for leave after the completion of an initial probationary period set by the employer, but no longer than three months. If no period is set, employees become eligible after three consecutive months of work. Part-time employees are not eligible for leave under the law. Employees must provide employers with notice at least two weeks prior to the date he or she plans to begin leave, or as soon as possible if the delay is outside the employee’s control.
The law generally requires that employees be returned to the same or similar position with the same salary and benefits after leave ends, though exceptions apply where layoffs occur. If two employees of the same employer are parents of the same child, the employees will only receive a total of 8 weeks between them, rather than 8 weeks each (for a total of 16 weeks). Where applicable, parental leave may be taken more than once annually under the Parental Leave Act.
Parental leave may be paid or unpaid, or may exceed 8 weeks at the discretion of the employer. If an employer provides more than 8 weeks of leave, but does not extend status and benefit protections beyond the required 8 weeks, the employer must inform the employee in writing before leave begins that loss of reinstatement or benefits will result from taking longer than 8 weeks.
Employers must post notice of employees’ rights under the Parental Leave Act and the employer’s related polices in an area where employees can see them. Similar to the Maternity Leave Act, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is responsible for enforcing provisions of the Parental Leave Act, and employees who believe their rights have been violated under the law must file a complaint with the MCAD within 300 days of the alleged violation in order to protect their rights.