On January 7, 2015, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a Parental Leave bill, which significantly amends Mass. Gen. L. ch. 149, section 105D.  Before the amendment, the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (“MMLA”) provided eight weeks of job-protected leave to female employees for the birth or adoption of a child. Now, however, among other expansive provisions, the Parental Leave bill extends that same right to males as well as to females.  Notably, the bill was passed only a short time before President Obama announced his intention to provide federal employees with paid parental leave.

The Parental Leave bill contains a number of relevant provisions:

  • Men, as well as women, shall now receive eight weeks of job-protected leave for the adoption or birth of a child.
  • Parental leave now also covers the placement of a child with an employee pursuant to a court order.
  • If an employer permits an employee to take parental leave for a period longer than eight weeks, the employee retains his or her right to reinstatement and other benefits for the full duration of the leave, unless the employer clearly informs the employee in writing, prior to the beginning of the leave, that a leave longer than eight weeks will result in denial of reinstatement or a loss of other rights or benefits. Note that this mandate overrides a 2010 Supreme Judicial Court decision in Global Naps, Inc. v. Awiszus which held that the protections of the MMLA applied only during the first eight weeks of leave.
  • If both parents work for the same employer, they will receive only an aggregate of eight weeks for the birth/adoption of the same child.
  • As was true with the MMLA, employees generally must provide at least two-weeks notice if they intend to take parental leave. However, according to the new law, an employee may provide notice “as soon as practicable” if two-weeks notice is not possible due to reasons beyond the employee’s control.
  • Employers may decide whether the parental leave is paid or unpaid.
  • Leave must become available after the employee has been employed for three months, even if the employer’s probationary period is longer.
  • Employers must post, in a conspicuous location, a notice to employees detailing the parental leave law and the employer’s policies relating to the new law.
  • The protections of Mass. Gen. L. ch. 151B now cover employees who take Parental Leave.

The Parental Leave bill will take effect on April 7, 2015, and as was true with the MMLA, will apply to all employers with six or more employees. Employers should note that the Parental Leave bill therefore applies to a greater number of employers, and makes eligible a greater number of employees, than does the FMLA. Massachusetts employers should consult with counsel to ensure that their current policies are compliant and to draft the necessary notices.