In April 2015, the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act was amended to provide employees with more benefits and greater protection. Below is an overview of employee rights under the amended law.
Employers with six or more employees are required to provide female employees with eight weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for giving birth, adopting a child under the age of 18 or adopting a child under the age of 23, if the child is mentally or physically disabled. Under the amended Parental Leave law, employees are also provided leave if a child is placed with them pursuant to a court order. Additionally, the law expands leave to the non-birth parent. However, if both parents work for the same employer, they are only entitled to a combined eight weeks of leave for the same child.
The right to take parental leave applies to employees who are eligible. An employee becomes eligible by completing the initial probationary period, which cannot exceed three months. If the employer does not set the terms of such probationary period, an employee who works on a full time basis for three consecutive months is eligible to take parental leave.
An employee must provide at least two weeks notice to their employer of the employee’s anticipated date of departure and their intention to return. Under the amended law, an employee can provide notice “as soon as practicable” if the delay in providing notice is for a reason beyond the employee’s control.
Employees taking parental leave have the option to choose whether to use accrued vacation, sick or other forms of paid time off.
The Parental Leave law maintains the protected nature of parental leave. An employer must restore the employee to his or her previous, or a similar, position with the same skills, pay, length of service credit and seniority as of the date of the leave. In addition, parental leave shall not affect the employee’s right to receive vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, seniority, length-of-service credit, benefits, plans or programs for which the employee was eligible as of the date of the leave or any other advantages or rights of employment. The period of the parental leave need not be included in the computation of any benefits.
In contrast to the previous law where job protection rights applied only during the first eight weeks of leave, the April 2015 amendments create a presumption that leave exceeding eight weeks is also job-protected. This means that if an employer agrees to provide an employee parental leave for a period longer than the statutorily required eight weeks, the employer may not deny the employee job restoration, unless the employer clearly informs the employee in writing, prior to the commencement of the leave and prior to any subsequent extension of the leave, that a leave longer than eight weeks will result in denial of reinstatement or a loss of other rights and benefits.