In one of his last official acts as governor, Deval Patrick signed into law the new Massachusetts Parental Leave Act. The new law, which goes into effect on April 7, 2015, expands the current Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act to cover male employees as well as females. The new law also makes several other significant changes that employers will need to be mindful of.
The current Maternity Leave Act, which effects Massachusetts employers with six or more employees, allows eligible female employees to take up to eight weeks of leave (paid or unpaid at the discretion of the employer) for the purpose of giving birth or adopting a child. The new Parental Leave Act makes leave available to male employees as well. This change to the law comes as no surprise to many who saw the expansion of leave benefits to men as inevitable. The MCAD has long held the view that the Maternity Leave Act’s provision of leave for women and not men was inconsistent with Massachusetts’s antidiscrimination law.
But beyond expanding leave benefits to men, the Parental Leave Act includes several other significant changes:
- The Act softens the employee’s obligations for providing notice of an intent to take leave. The current law states that the employee “shall give at least two weeks’ notice to the employer of the anticipated date of departure.” The new law allows employees to provide notice “as soon as practicable” in situations where two weeks’ notice in not possible for reasons beyond the employee’s control.
- Couples who work for the same employer will not be allowed to “stack” their leave under the Act. Any two employees of the same employer are entitled to a maximum of eight weeks in aggregate for the same child.
- New language in the statute also overrides a 2010 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which held that the Maternity Leave Act’s protections did not apply to women who took more than eight weeks off, even with the employer’s approval. Under the new law, employers who allow more than eight weeks of parental leave cannot deny reinstatement unless they notify employees clearly in writing, before the start of the leave, that taking more than eight weeks will result in denial of reinstatement or loss of other rights and benefits.
- Currently, employers are required to provide notice of the provisions of the Maternity Leave Act in establishments in which females are employed. Under the new law, employers will be required to conspicuously post notice of the Act, as well as notice of the employer’s policies relating to parental leave.