Massachusetts’ expanded parental leave law, An Act Relative to Parental Leave, goes into effect today. The revised statute makes several significant changes to state law. First, it removes any doubt about whether men are entitled to leave. The amended law is gender neutral: men and women who work for employers with six or more employees are entitled to the same parental leave. Employees who have completed an initial probationary period – as set by the employer, but not to exceed three months – are entitled to 8 weeks unpaid parental leave. An employee who intends to take leave under the statute must provide 2 weeks’ notice of his or her anticipated departure date and intention to return, or provide such notice as soon as practicable if the reason for delay in providing notice is beyond the employee’s control. An employee who takes leave under the statute must be reinstated to the same position or a similar position, meaning one that is comparable in terms of factors such as status and pay.
The second major change in the law clarifies when an employee is eligible for reinstatement. While the state law mandates at least 8 weeks of unpaid leave, many employers offer benefits that exceed the minimum provided for under the state statute. In 2010, the state’s highest court concluded that an employee who took more than the eight weeks leave provided for in the statute was not covered by the law’s reinstatement requirement. The amended parental leave act clarifies that an employee is entitled to reinstatement unless the employer informs the employee – in writing, before the start of the employee’s leave and before any subsequent extension of that leave – that taking more than 8 weeks leave will result in denial of reinstatement or the loss of other rights and benefits. In other words, the default is that employees are entitled to reinstatement and an employer who wishes to exclude an employee from this provision of the law must make its intention to do so clear.