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Every company is familiar with maternity leave – the time off provided to new mothers so they can take care of their newborns with the security that their jobs will be waiting for them when they return. One topic that has caught the attention of some policymakers of late is whether that practice should extend to new fathers as well.

Massachusetts has taken a significant step in advancing this discussion. On April 7, 2015, a new piece of legislation will be enacted that will offer new mothers and new fathers alike the same access to parental leave.

Introducing paternity leave
Signed back in January by then-governor Deval Patrick advanced An Act Relative to Parental Leave. Known as the MLPA, this act serves as an amendment to the existing Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act, which stipulates that employers must provide new mothers with eight weeks of unpaid leave – time off that has previously only been provided for women. 

The amendment would extend this unpaid time off to men as well as women. Human Resource Executive Online noted that this state law is separate from the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of maternity leave, but only for companies that have more than 50 employees.

This comes on the heels of another recent decision affecting the FMLA that extended family benefits coverage to domestic partnerships, including same-sex unions.

"The trend is to expand family-friendly employee leave benefits," Nancy Puelo, Boston-based partner in an employment law firm, told the source.

What about paid leave?
Of course, this draws attention to the other leave-related elephant in the room of the discussion – paid leave. Currently, the U.S. is only developed country in the world that doesn't offer paid parental leave, and the recent Massachusetts law may bring this issue more to light. 

According to The New York Times, President Barack Obama is a proponent of instituting paid leave – going as far as to grant federal government employees up to six weeks of paid parental leave. The Times also pointed out the economic benefits associated with offering paid leave, such as increasing child care quality and encouraging more women to join the workforce.

While the family leave landscape is changing, there is currently no legislation mandating that companies offer paid leave to employees. Small-business owners can work closely with HR specialists at PEO companies to ensure their policies regarding family leave are in line with state and federal compliance.