On April 7, 2015, the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act will take effect.  The Parental Leave Act, signed into law on January 7, 2015 by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, expands parental leave rights for employees in Massachusetts in several respects.  The new law amends Massachusetts General Laws ch. 149, § 105D, known as the Maternity Leave Act.  Prior to its amendment, the Act required employers with six or more employees to grant eligible female employees up to eight weeks of job-protected leave to give birth or to adopt a child.  The Parental Leave bill now extends those same rights to male employees.  The bill also expands the reasons for job-protected leave to include not only birth or adoption, but also the placement of a child with an employee pursuant to a court order.

Employees become eligible for job-protected leave under the Act once they have been employed by the employer for three months.  

If both parents work for the same employer, they are entitled to receive a total of eight weeks leave for the birth, adoption or placement of a child, and the eight weeks can be allocated between the parents as they choose.  

Employees generally are required to provide the employer “at least two weeks’ notice” if they intend to take parental leave.  However, the amended law provides that an employee need only give notice “as soon as practicable” if the employee is unable to provide two weeks’ notice “for reasons beyond the [employee’s] control.”

Under the new law, if an employer elects to provide parental leave for longer than eight weeks, the employee retains all rights to reinstatement and benefits for the full duration of the leave.  The sole exception is if the employer informs the employee in writing, prior to the commencement of the parental leave or any extension of it, that taking longer than eight weeks will result in the denial of reinstatement or the loss of other rights and benefits.  

Employers continue to have discretion to decide whether the parental leave is paid or unpaid.

Employers are required to post a notice to employees describing the parental leave law and the employer’s policies relating to parental leave.  

While many employers already have voluntary paternity leave policies, those that do not should consult with counsel. When revising their leave policies, larger employers must keep in mind their obligations under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.  Finally, this new enactment is a reminder that employers risk violating state and federal discrimination laws if they treat male and female employees differently with regard to parental leave rights.