Paternity leave is an essential component to a company leave policy that supports working fathers, mothers, and family life. Here’s how it works and why.
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 employees
Paternity leave is a crucial component of family life. It provides fathers the opportunity to bond with their new child and support their partners during the early months of parenting.
Despite its importance, paternity leave is not always available. And when it is, it isn’t necessarily paid. Movements toward increasing the availability of paternal leave could have lasting impacts on families and the broader economy. Here we’ll explore what paternity leave is, where it’s currently available, and the benefits it could offer.
What is paternity leave?
Paternity leave is time off work that fathers, as non-birthing parents, can officially take to spend with and help care for their new baby or adopted or foster child.
Paternity leave can be paid or unpaid time, depending on the state and employer. It may also be taken as part of paid parental leave, paid family leave, or a similar unpaid policy.
Paternity leave vs. maternity leave
While the simple definition of paternity leave doesn’t change, its benefits can apply to both genders. Both male and female parents may request it for its designated purpose. Maternity leave, however, has traditionally applied specifically to pregnant and new birth mothers.
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. The Family and Medical Leave Act outlines basic parental leave benefits allowing both mothers and fathers to take time off for family medical and caretaking responsibilities.
Where is paternity leave available?
Availability and details vary. Not all companies designate specific leave for fathers, and not all leave is paid time off. Some employers have a formal paternity leave program in line with their maternity leave benefit. Even those may or may not offer dads the same amount of time off as moms.
With different categories of leave available to workers, employers, especially small businesses, should understand how paternity leave differs from maternity, parental, and federal family medical leave under the FMLA.
The Family and Medical Leave Act and paternity leave
The FMLA pertains to unpaid parental leave and applies to employers with 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius. The federal law guarantees qualifying employees a degree of job security and group health care coverage while on leave. But it does not require that be paid time off.
Employees with at least 12 months on the job may take 12 workweeks of leave within a 12-month period to tend to specific family needs. In terms of paternity leave, this pertains to:
- Welcoming a child through birth or adoption or within the foster care system.
- Caring for a newborn up to a year from birth or an adopted or foster child up to a year following placement.
While fathers of any size company may request paid or unpaid leave, they won’t all qualify for FMLA leave provisions. And even those who do can’t always afford 12 weeks of unpaid leave. They might consider access to up to 12 weeks of paid leave a more “realistic” benefit.
State laws and paternity leave
The U.S. doesn’t impose a national paid leave policy. Paid paternity leave, like maternity leave, is a state-legislated issue. A number of states have laws covering paid and unpaid paternity leave.
Public and private employers must comply with parental leave laws in their jurisdictions or face penalties and possible court action. Even when not required, providing paternity leave benefits can be an important part of total compensation for male employees.
How long is paternity leave?
The length of parental leave may differ according to company policies. Still, the average paternity leave duration hovers around 1 week in the U.S. However, the benefits extended to new dads by U.S.-based employers appear to be becoming more generous. Often when paid paternal leave is offered, fathers take a longer leave period to spend time with their new child.
What are the benefits of taking paternity leave?
The advantages of paternal leave as a component of parental leave benefits for new parents are multifold.
A 2017 poll released by the Pew Research Center found most respondents in support of paternity leave. A majority also believe that a new baby needs equal time to bond with both mother and father.
Paternity leave gives fathers that time to bond with a new child and more. Business leaders realize its positive effects on female employees as fathers assist new mothers with family-related duties after childbirth. The effects may also extend to support:
- Mental health and well-being for new mothers and children.
- Improved partner relationships.
- A more positive home life for families.
Still, some working fathers consider it a potential risk to their careers if they take this time off. This is where employers can step in to remove the stigma, worry, and any discrimination that might surround support for working parents and their families. Encouraging both paternity and maternity leave demonstrates a workplace culture respectful of work-life balance and the dual roles of employee and parent. Fathers may develop stronger ties with partners and children at home. And mothers may be more confident about pursuing careers in their chosen fields despite labor statistics surrounding workforce gender equality.
Supportive paternal leave policies
One way to demonstrate company support for employees’ family lives is to back it with a thoughtful paternity leave policy. As part of your employee compensation plan, it should reflect your company’s values and compensation philosophy. How can you sweeten the deal considering the following?
- The FMLA and any state paternity leave laws as the guaranteed minimum.
- The size of your workforce.
- What other types of leave you’re already offering.
- What other types of compensation you currently or plan to offer.
- Employee satisfaction with your existing leave policies.
- The company budget and growth and development goals.
Features of a plan that reflects an organization’s values and inspires a company culture supportive of paternal leave might include:
- Providing fathers the same benefits as new and expectant mothers.
- Clarity about how leave may or will not affect job security, advancement, and careers.
- An uninterrupted promotion timeline.
- Helping fathers to manage duty delegation and out-of-office communication during their leave.
- Helping working fathers return to the workplace after paternity leave.
- Fully or partially paid family leave.
When fully paid paternity leave isn’t feasible, can you find a happy medium for leave-related financial support? Consider a degree of paid paternity time off that won’t make new dads fiscally uneasy about taking paternity leave. Worries about the home front can impede an employee’s focus and productivity on the job, and vice versa. Hence, parental leave programs that support paternal involvement can promote a healthy work-life balance that benefits employees and organizations alike.
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