Parental Leave In Massachusetts

Until 2015 Massachusetts, like most states, had a maternity leave act (MMLA), which provided up to eight (8) weeks of leave for eligible full-time employees, working for businesses that employed six or more employees. As the word “maternity” would imply, it generally applied to women taking leave at the time of birth or at the time of adoption. This left open a question of whether such leave would apply to male employees. There were considerable gender discrimination issues to consider and concerns that failure to provide paternity leave was violative of the Equal Rights Amendment. All that changed with the promulgation of the Parental Leave Act.

Signed into law in January 2015, the Parental Leave Act went into effect on April 7, 2015, making the Commonwealth’s existing leave policy gender neutral. The law gives fathers a chance to bond with their new babies. It also applies to gay couples who adopt a child.

As with the MMLA, this law applies to employers with six or more employees. It allows both female and male employees to take eight weeks of job-protected leave for the birth or adoption of a child. In addition, employee – regardless of gender – may take leave if a child is placed by court order with the employee.

Who is entitled to take this leave? The Massachusetts Parental Leave Act and the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act cover workers who have completed the initial probationary period set by your terms of employment or if the worker has been employed by the your business for at least three consecutive months as a full-time employee.

Parental leave may be with or without pay at the discretion of your business. As one might expect, smaller employers tend to provide unpaid leave; larger entities are sometimes willing and able to provide paid time off.  You can certainly consider a combination of such benefits = i.e., Two weeks paid; six weeks’ unpaid.

What are your employees’ responsibilities under the Parental Leave Act?  An employee needs to provide at least two weeks’ notice to the employer of the anticipated date of departure and also provide an anticipated date of return.

An employee using parental leave is able to return to his/her previous position or one that is ‘comparable’ (look at pay, status, benefits.) You will need to consider how, administratively, to handle collecting health insurance premiums from the employee out on parental leave.

There are many employees who choose to return to work after only four weeks or six weeks, for the simple fact that the lack of wage for eight weeks is difficult. Yet other employees seek additional time. For positive employee relations and retention of talent of employees wanting that extra time, you may wish to provide more than the mandated eight (8) weeks. If you do agree to provide an employee with parental leave longer than eight weeks, the employee is eligible for the same protections as provided within the initial eight weeks of protected coverage (unless you clearly inform your employee prior to the extension of parental leave about denial of reinstatement or loss of other rights and benefits.)

Employers are required to post the law and policies related to these legal provisions. If you do not have Parental Leave provisions, your policies must be updated.

If your business has more than 50 employees, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), new mothers and fathers are both eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a newborn. The FMLA entitles eligible employees who work for covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.