United States: What Employers Need To Know About The Expanded Massachusetts Parental Leave Act

Miriam McKendall is a Partner and Brian Doyle an Associate in our Boston office

On Jan. 7, 2015, then-Governor Deval Patrick signed the Parental Leave Act into law, extending parental leave to male employees in connection with the birth or adoption of a child. The amendment – which becomes effective on Apr. 7, 2015 – replaces the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA).

The MMLA was enacted in 1972 and titled "Entitlement of female employees; rights and benefits," providing leave to female employees only. Notwithstanding the express language of the MMLA, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has long taken the position that the MMLA applies equally to female and male employees. The Parental Leave Act has now codified the availability of parental leave under state law and clarified a number of related issues, such as the following:

  • The Parental Leave Act is gender-neutral. Covered employers must provide eight weeks of leave to qualified male and female employees for the purpose of (1) giving birth, or (2) for the placement of a child under the age of 18 or under the age of 23 if the child is mentally or physically disabled for adoption with the employee who is adopting or intending to adopt, or (3) for the placement of a child with an employee under a court order. Covered employers include, with limited exceptions, employers who have six or more employees in Massachusetts. Under the act, the leave is unpaid, although employers may provide paid leave. An employee who takes leave under the Parental Leave Act must be restored to his or her previous, or a similar, position with the same status, pay, length of service credit and seniority, wherever applicable, as of the date of the leave.
  • Consistent with the MMLA, the Parental Leave Act defines a qualified employee as one who has been employed by the employer for at least three consecutive months as a full-time employee. The employee shall give at least two weeks' notice to the employer of the anticipated date of departure and the employee's intended return, or provide notice as soon as practicable if the delay is for reasons beyond the individual's control.
  • The Parental Leave Act limits the availability of leave in situations when both parents work for the same employer. As a result, any two employees of the same employer are entitled to eight weeks of parental leave in the aggregate for the birth or adoption of the same child.
  • If an employer provides parental leave for longer than eight weeks, the job protection benefits of the Parental Leave Act will extend to the entire period of that leave, unless the employer specifically limits in writing the job protections applied to the eight weeks of the leave. For example, if an employer provides 16 weeks of parental leave, then that employer must give the qualified employee the full job protections under the Parental Leave Act for the 16-week period, unless the employer clearly informs the employee in writing before the commencement of the parental leave as well as before any subsequent extension of that leave, that taking a leave longer than eight weeks will result in the employee being denied reinstatement or losing other rights and benefits.
  • The Parental Leave Act requires the employer to post a notice describing this law and the employer's policies related to it in "conspicuous" places within its premises.
  • The protections of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151B apply to claims for failure to comply with the provisions of the Parental Leave Act.

In preparation of the effective date of the Parental Leave Act, employers should take steps now to review and amend their leave policies, postings and practices.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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