In one of his last acts as governor, former-Governor Deval Patrick signed into law on January 7, 2015 an amendment to the previous Massachusetts Maternity Leave Law that extends eight weeks of unpaid leave to both male and female employees to care for a newborn, newly placed, or newly adopted child. The previous version of the law as written only entitled mothers to leave, but the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination had interpreted the law to apply equally to men and women. The new version clarifies that an employee of an employer with six or more employees who has completed his or her initial probationary period or worked for at least three months (whichever is shorter) is entitled to eight weeks of unpaid leave—regardless of the employee’s gender—for (a) giving birth, (b) caring for a newly placed child under the age of 18 or under the age of 23 if the child is mentally or physically disabled, or (c) for an intended or actual adoption.  

Under the law as amended, an employee who takes leave is generally entitled to be restored to his or her previous or similar position with the same status, pay, and seniority as when the leave period began. The new law also provides that these protections apply only to leaves of up to eight weeks and that an employer that offers leave for longer than eight weeks and does not intend to guarantee employees a return to their same or similar positions with the same pay, etc. as the law would otherwise require must notify its employees of that policy in writing.

The new law also provides that if any two employees of the same employer are the parents to the same child, those employees are only entitled to one aggregate period of eight weeks of leave between them. Also, the law does not require that an employee be reinstated to a position when employees in similar positions with similar lengths of service and status have been laid off due to economic or other operating conditions. In these circumstances, the employee on leave is to be afforded the same preferential treatment in consideration for another position as he or she would have had at the time that his or her leave period began.

The new law goes into effect on April 7, 2015, and in the interim, employers are advised to update their leave policies to reflect the gender-neutral and notice requirements of the new legislation.