Navigating Massachusetts’ New Parental Leave Law

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In April 2015, Massachusetts’ Parental Leave Act went into effect. G.L. c. 149, §105D, previously known as the Maternity Leave Act became the Parental Leave Act, applicable to both men and women. The law continues to apply only to employers with six or more employees. It provides for 8 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child, adoption of a child or placement of a child pursuant to a court order, although if both parents work for the same employer, they can only take a combined total of 8 weeks of leave.

The leave can be paid or unpaid at the discretion of the employer. However, the law expressly provides that an employee who is on leave for the adoption of a child cannot be treated any differently than an employee who is on leave for the birth of a child.

The employee must give at least two weeks’ notice of the anticipated departure date and the employee’s intent to return, or if unable to provide such notice for reasons beyond the employee’s control, as soon as practicable. At the conclusion of the employee’s parental leave, the employee shall be restored to the employee’s previous or similar position with all of the same benefits and rights as of the date of the employee’s date of leave.

The law enacted a major change to the right of an employee to reinstatement and benefits. Under the old law and the 2010 Supreme Judicial Court decision Global NAPs, Inc. v. Awiszus, an employee was only protected for eight weeks of leave. Now, if the employer permits the employee to take parental leave for longer than 8 weeks, the employee retains his or her rights to reinstatement unless the employer informs the employee, in writing, prior to the commencement of the parental leave and prior to any extension of that leave, that taking longer than 8 weeks of parental leave will result in the denial of reinstatement or the loss of other rights and benefits.

Additionally, the law provides that taking parental leave shall not affect the employee’s right to receive vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, senior and any other benefits the employee was entitled to as of the date of leave, although the period of the parental leave does not have to be included in the computation of any benefits.

All employers subject to the Parental Leave Law must post a notice of the law in a conspicuous place for all employees to see.

G.L. c. 151B, the anti-discrimination statute also now protects employees who take parental leave.

In light of this new law, employers should make sure that they have:

• Reviewed their maternity/paternity leave policies to make sure their policies are gender-neutral and meet the requirements of the new Parental Leave Act;

• Post the required notices explaining the Parental Leave Act; and

• Update company handbooks/manuals to reflect the new Parental Leave Law.

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