On Jan. 7, 2015, Gov. Patrick signed into law S. 865, creating Chapter 484. The new law relates to parental leave for both female and male employees, and will replace the current Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act.
The law applies to employers with six or more employees. Under the law, employees who have been employed for at least three consecutive months as full-time employees are entitled to eight weeks of unpaid, job-protected parental leave for the purpose of giving birth, for the placement of a child under the age of 18 (or under the age of 23 if the child is mentally or physically disabled), or for the adoption of a child. To be entitled to the protected leave, employees generally must give at least two weeks’ notice to the employer of the anticipated date of departure and the employee’s intention to return to work. However, the employee’s notice can be less than two weeks before the leave date, if the delay is for reasons beyond the employee’s control.
Where leave has been properly requested by the employee, the employer must restore the employee to his or her previous (or similar) position, with the same status, pay, length of service credit and seniority as of the date of the leave. Employers need not pay for the cost of benefits (including medical coverage) during the leave, unless the employer continues payment for the cost of benefits to all employees who are on a leave of absence. In addition, an employee on parental leave for the adoption of a child is entitled to the same benefits offered by the employer to an employee on parental leave for the birth of a child.
Importantly, if the employer agrees to provide an employee with more than eight weeks of parental leave, the employer may not deny reinstatement rights upon return unless the employer provides written notice that taking more than eight weeks of leave will result in the denial of reinstatement. The written notice must be provided prior to the commencement of the parental leave and prior to any subsequent extension of that leave. If the employer does not provide notice but agrees to extend the leave beyond eight weeks, the entire period of leave will be protected.
According to the new law, an employer is not required to restore an employee on parental leave to their previous position if the employer is going through lay-offs due to economic conditions or other changes in operating conditions affecting employment during the leave. However, an employee on parental leave must be given preferential consideration for another position to which the employee may be entitled as of the date of the leave.
Finally, employers are required to post, in a conspicuous place on the employer’s premises, a notice describing employees’ rights under the new law and the employer’s policies.
The new law is effective April 7, 2015. Massachusetts employers should work closely with outside counsel in ensuring that their leave policies are consistent with the new law, as well as with existing federal laws, (e.g., FMLA, ADA, etc.).
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