Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act Now Applies to Men

Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act Now Applies to Men

Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) Commissioner Martin Ebel recently announced that the MCAD will begin applying the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA) in a gender neutral fashion. The Commissioner confirmed in an interview with Lawyers Weekly that, effective immediately, the MCAD will prosecute claims brought by male employees who say they have been denied the parental leave benefits provided for in the MMLA. This decision represents a significant reinterpretation of the MMLA by the MCAD, which has previously interpreted the statute as applying only to female employees.

The MCAD's application of the MMLA to male employees is contrary to the terms of the statute, which plainly states that eligible female employees are entitled to maternity leave, but does not mention male employees or paternity leave. In addition, the MCAD's new interpretation of the MMLA contradicts the agency's own guidelines, which remain posted on its website and state that "[t]he MMLA, by its terms, provides maternity leave to female employees only. This means that the MCAD is unable to take jurisdiction over claims in which male employees are seeking eight weeks of unpaid paternity leave." The MCAD has stated that its guidelines are currently under review and will be revised to reflect its new interpretation that male employees are eligible to receive MMLA benefits.

The Commissioner explained that the MCAD's decision to reinterpret the law was made after it permitted a man to pursue an MMLA claim against his employer in late 2007. The Commissioner also cited recent legislative and judicial developments as grounds for the MCAD's new approach--namely the Supreme Judicial Court's decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health to legalize same sex marriage and the amendment of the MMLA to expand leave to employees who adopt. No Massachusetts court, however, has applied the MMLA to a male employee.

Based upon the Commissioner's statements, male employees are now eligible for up to eight weeks of unpaid parental leave so long as the employee (1) has completed an initial probationary period or has been employed for three consecutive months as a full-time employee; (2) requests parental leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child; and (3) gives two weeks notice of the date of his departure and indicates an intent to return. Massachusetts employers covered by the MMLA (those with six or more employees) should review their policies and practices to ensure compliance with the MCAD's new interpretation of the statute.