Offering paternity leave can provide benefits to your employees and your business.
Here's what you need to know:
- Paternity leave may be paid or unpaid
- Not all companies offer both maternity and paternity leave
- Offering paternity leave is beneficial to both your business and workers
“Hooray for fatherhood” is not just a slogan reserved each year for Father’s Day. Working dads like Ryan Dinkler, customer marketing strategist at Mitratech.com, take their roles as fathers seriously and credit the paid paternity leave their companies offer as the support new fathers need.
Dinkler shared his earlier experience as a new dad and how his company supported that role with Workest:
“Becoming a dad has been the most transformative and incredible experience I have ever been a part of. It was one of only two instances in my life where my life completely changed within 24 hours. The first was when I got married, and the second was March 17th, my son’s birthday. Early on in my time at Mitratech, I told [the company that] I wanted to be as involved and present as possible [as a new dad]. I wanted to go to the doctor’s appointments, be there at the checkups, and truly check out when I log off from work, and that was met with overwhelming support.”
Not all companies offer parental leave for fathers and not all leave is paid.
“When my son made his debut, I was able to take advantage of flexible paid parental leave and maximize my time at home with my wife and newborn. Having paid parental leave is a special thing, but having a supportive leadership team that encourages you to take the time, fully use it, and truly disconnect makes that time even more special.”
A slow-growing leave policy
Dinkler is among the number of working dads starting to take paid paternity leave when their companies offer it. But not all workplaces include dads in their parental leave policies, and not all leave policies include pay.
Since the U.S. lacks a national paid leave policy — unlike most industrialized nations — paid paternity leave, like maternity leave, is employer- or state-sponsored and may be paid or unpaid at the sponsor’s discretion.
Public and private employers must comply with parental leave laws in their jurisdictions or face penalties and possible court action.
Paternity leave defined
The simple definition of paternity leave is paid or unpaid time off that fathers can officially take to spend with their newborns. Unfortunately, employers don’t always have a formal paternity leave program like their maternity leave benefit or offer dads the same amount of time off as moms.
Omnipresent.com, a platform specializing in supporting global teams, further defines paternity leave as time off for fathers, who, as non-birthing parents and secondary caregivers, may take leave to care for a new baby or an adopted or foster child.
With different categories of leave available to workers, employers, especially small businesses (SMBs), should understand how paternity leave differs from maternity, parental, and federal family medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Familiarity with various leaves also helps employers avoid violating the laws that apply and protect new fathers’ legal rights in the process.
Paternity leave vs. maternity leave
Maternity is reserved for biological mothers.The simple definition of paternity leave doesn’t change, but the benefit can apply to both mothers and fathers. For example, pregnant moms or those with a newborn may request paternity leave, while maternity leave has been solely for biological mothers.
Employers, like NYC-based Mogul, Inc., a technology platform, take a forward-thinking approach towards parental leave. “Here at Mogul, we offer a non-gender-based approach to parental leave, as families come in all forms, and we believe that inclusive workplaces are supportive of all lifestyles,” Tiffany Pham, the company’s founder, CEO, and board chairman, told Workest in an email interview. “It’s a benefit that our own employees appreciate, and we strongly encourage them to use it.”
Paternity leave vs. parental leave
Parental leave is the general term for mothers and fathers who take time off to care for a newborn or an adopted or foster child placed in their care.
FMLA is parental leave since it allows both mothers and fathers to take time off for family medical and caretaking responsibilities.
Paternity leave vs. federal family medical leave
The FMLA provides unpaid parental leave and applies to employers with at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius. The law guarantees employees continued employment and group health care coverage while on leave.
Employees with at least 12 months on the job may take 12 workweeks of leave within 12 months to:
- Give birth, adopt a child or become a foster parent.
- Take care of a newborn up to a year after birth, and an adopted or foster child up to a year after placement.
- Care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious medical condition.
- Go out on leave for a serious medical condition that leaves them unable to perform the basic functions of their job.
- Handle family and medical situations for a spouse, daughter, son, or parent in the military or active duty.
Eligible employees can also take 26 workweeks of leave in one 12-month period to care for a military spouse, daughter, son, parent, or next of kin with a serious illness or injury.
How long is paternity leave?
For instance, Mogul, Inc. offers 16 weeks of parental leave, including 8 weeks of paid and 8 weeks of unpaid time off. The company allows employees to take parental leave non-consecutively and to use it any time within one year of a child’s birth or adoption. “Our approach to all time off, not just parental leave, is holistic and employee-centered in the sense that we offer remote work and flexible schedules with unlimited vacation time, sick leave, bereavement leave, and jury duty,” said Pham.
The length of parental leave differs depending on company policies.
Estelle de Gombert, HR director at Akeneo, a global firm specializing in product experience management (PXM) solutions and product information management (PIM), told Workest in an email interview that her company has been taking part in the Parental Act of 2021. The act provides 1 month of fully paid leave to the second parent, who typically is the new dad.
Rene Barreda, chief people officer at Mitratech, a governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) platform, told Workest via email that the company focuses primarily on unpaid parental leave programs and mandated benefits. This includes a standard paid time off benefit of six weeks for each birth, adoption, or placement of a child in foster care with the intent to adopt. Barreda added that the benefits apply to a birthing mother’s spouse or partner and comply with local regulations or restrictions.
How fathers rate as caregivers
Despite widespread support for paternity leave and more weeks off for new dads, women remain the primary caregivers in the household. This may be why fewer working fathers than expected take full paternity leave when their employers offer it.
Not only are working women still the primary caregivers in the household, but the perception of them in this role is common. For example, one 2017 poll released by the Pew Research Center shows that although most of the respondents support paternity leave and believe a newborn needs equal time to bond with both mother and father, more than half, 53%, said that — breastfeeding aside — mothers make better caregivers than fathers.
Benefits of taking paternity leave
Paternity leave doesn’t just give fathers time to bond with their newborns. Business leaders also credit it with relieving mothers of some of the burden and stress of taking on most caregiving duties in the home after childbirth.
“The post-partum period is not always the easiest for women who give birth. Support from a partner without disruption from their work is greatly appreciated and allows the new mom a faster and better recovery while prioritizing the newborn care and well-being,” de Gombert noted.
Also, employers that encourage both paternity and maternity leave show that their workplace culture respects the dual roles of employee and parent and maintaining the balance between work and home life.
Feedback from fathers who’ve taken paternity leave
Fathers currently may not score as high as mothers in caregiving, but once they take paternity leave, they find the experience overwhelmingly positive, according to the Women in the Workplace Report 2021 by McKinsey & Company and Leanin.org.
100% of fathers who took paternity leave said they would do so again.
The report shows that among the fathers who took paternity leave:
- 100% said they were glad they did and would do so again.
- 90% said their relationship with their partner improved.
- 20% said the drawback to paternity leave was the possible risk to their careers.
Working fathers learned from working mothers how extended leaves could stall a career. This is where employers can step in to remove the stigma of leave as a career risk and the discrimination that often follows and support working parents and their families.
Support for working fathers
New fathers in the McKinsey survey listed three must-haves for paternity leave:
- A workplace culture that supports taking leave (70%)
- An employer’s support for a leave policy (63%)
- An uninterrupted promotion timeline (30%)
Based on these three findings, McKinsey recommends that employers:
- Give fathers the same benefits as mothers.
- Create a culture that inspires employees to take leave.
- Be clear about how leave will affect careers.
- Help parents readjust to the workplace when their leave ends.
- Draft supportive family policies.
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Key takeaways about paternity leave
SMBs should consider what fathers like Dinkler and the McKinsey survey respondents said they expect in paternity leave. Draft a policy to make their bonding and caregiving experiences fulfilling.
“Offering your employees comfort and support at work and in their lives is the minimum every employer should do,” said de Gombert.
“That being said, this is a win-win situation. If your employees feel happy at work and supported in their personal lives, they will only want to give their best to their job and company.”