HR News Update

Maternity Leave for Men? MA Agency Explains

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), the agency that enforces the state's anti-discrimination laws, recently announced a new interpretation of the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA), which requires employers of six or more to offer 8 weeks of unpaid leave to women after the birth or adoption of a child. Now, the MCAD has stated that if an employer offers leave to pregnant women which is in excess of that required under the MMLA, it may be engaging in gender discrimination if it fails to offer the same leave to employees who have recently become fathers. Put another way, although the MMLA, by its terms, provides maternity leave to female employees only, if a company offers time in excess of the required 8 weeks (e.g., weeks 9 through 12) to women but not to men, the result would in most circumstances constitute sex discrimination in a term or condition of employment in violation of state law.

MCAD Commissioners Martin Ebel, Sunila George, and Malcolm Medley, in a letter to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, stated that the new interpretation was triggered by the facts of a case currently before the MCAD, Bloom v. Metrowest Medical Center. In that case, the employer offered- to pregnant women but not to men for whom parenthood was imminent- benefits in excess of those guaranteed under the MMLA. The agency made a preliminary determination that such a policy constituted gender discrimination under the state's anti-discrimination law. The commissioners added that MCAD's Maternity Leave Guidelines, issued in 2000, expressly state, and have put practitioners on notice for some time, that such a practice may violate the law.

Reactions. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a prominent voice for employers, said that it is "currently studying the MCAD announcement and expects to meet with MCAD officials to clarify the agency's view of the issue."

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