What is a Paternity Leave Policy? (And Should My Business Have One?)

What is paternity leave? How does it work? And do I need to offer it? This article covers the details of paternity leave policy for employers.


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One of the hottest topics in HR — and in business more generally — is the paternity leave policy. Working dads are looking for more time to bond with new children and help out at home.

Family leave is covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But it’s often considered protection for new moms with fathers using the benefit less frequently. While dads are covered, the trend for new dads to take more time off for the birth or placement of a child in their care is growing. 

While FMLA allows new dads to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, many businesses are expanding the benefit. And depending on where your business is located, more leave may be required.

One form of employee leave

Paternity leave is one form of employee leave. Employee leave includes leaves of absence, maternity leave, medical leave, and several other categories of time off. 

Paternity leave is seeing greater popularity — and greater demand from workers — as employees seek greater work-life balance. After all, bonding with a newborn is a life event that comes only a few times to most. The benefit of providing men the opportunity to take time to help with and enjoy their child can be priceless to some. Offering such a benefit to male workers could translate directly to engagement and retention.

One study found 69% of Americans believe fathers should receive paid leave when a child comes into the family.”

What’s the difference between paternity and maternity leave?

The laws that mandate paternity leave, and the guidelines of most businesses that provide paid leave for paternity, specify that leave is available after the birth or placement of a child in the household. 

Maternity leave typically covers all aspects of a pregnancy, through the birth of a child. Pregnant women can take time off before the child is born under FMLA for maternity leave. 

For most dads, time off is only allotted after. In some cases the term paternity, which suggests a male employee, has been replaced by spouse to cover same-sex couples. 

Positive outcomes of paternity leave on families

Beyond bonding, data suggests paternity leave is beneficial to mothers and children. A recent study found fathers with more flexible paternity leave see reductions in health complications for mothers, and decreased use of antibiotics for children during the first six months. 

The study also found a 26% increase in a mother’s postpartum mental health. Understandably, a new baby can mean sleepless nights and upheaval for families. Businesses that help ease that transition with flexible or generous paternity leave can hope to see lower insurance costs, reduced absenteeism and higher retention, loyalty and engagement.

Why businesses create paternity leave policies

Many companies are creating paternity leave policies irrespective of the laws in their area. That’s because the benefits of paternity leave extend to the employee and the business.

With top talent in short supply, every position and benefit a business can provide boost their brand in the marketplace. One study found 69% of Americans believe fathers should receive paid leave when a child comes into the family. When job seekers are looking for a new place to call home, paternity leave is attractive.

A 2014 study found 75% of fathers would like to take more time off with their children, yet 76% only took one week or less of leave time following a birth or adoption. The same study found that in Sweden for every additional month of parental leave taken by dads, mother’s earnings increased more than 6.5%. 

And the effects of paternity leave are long-lasting. A Ball State University study found taking parental leave shortly after birth “may be the key to developing strong father-child bonds that last for years.”

The impact of paternity leave on employee retention

Many millennials have put off major life activities like marriage, buying a home or starting a family. The US birth rate fell to a 30-year low in 2017. Many suggest financial pressures, like student loans, are putting the squeeze on this generation and making it difficult for them to even consider having children. 

However, research shows that supporting working parents, including fathers, can positively impact employee retention. One study of participants in the Paid Family Leave program provided in California since 2004 found that nearly 93% of employers saw either a positive effect or no effect on employee turnover while 87% said they didn’t experience an impact on costs as a result of the program. 

Do I have to provide paternity leave?

Unless mandated by your state or city, businesses are not required to provide paid leave for paternity. However, unpaid leave is covered under federal law with the FMLA, for employees and businesses that qualify. But only regional laws provide additional employee leave options. For those businesses and localities that do offer additional leave, the typical time range is between 8 and 12 weeks.

States that offer some form of additional paternity leave 

Currently several states and the District of Columbia provide specific paternity leave, in addition to coverage under the FMLA, for employees. Many others are considering or already have in place paternity leave options.

California Paternity Leave

The state of California offers limited benefits to new dads, including 6 weeks of partial pay. The law does not provide job protection, but if the leave was taken in concurrence with FMLA, the employee should be covered. Their Paid Family Leave (PFL) is funded through mandatory payroll deductions. Employees can earn 60 to 70% of the wages they’d earned in the 5 to 18 months prior to their claim. 

Los Angeles recently proposed up to 18 weeks of leave at up to 100% of wages for employees.

Rhode Island Paternity Leave

In Rhode Island, dads are allowed up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave in any two year period if there is a birth or placement of a child in their care. The law covers employers with more than 50 staff members, and dads must work 30 hours per week or more for at least 12 months before the leave request.

New York Paternity Leave

New York law began offering paid paternity leave January 1, 2019. Employees fund the program through mandatory payroll contributions of  0.126% of their weekly salary: maximum $85.56 per year. Dads who’ve worked 26 weeks full-time, or 175 days part-time receive 10 weeks of job-protected leave at 55% of their average weekly wage, to a maximum of 55% of the statewide average weekly. For 2020, the wage level and cap increases to 60% each and for 2021, 12 weeks will be provided at 67% of wages up to 67% of the statewide average weekly wage.

New Jersey Paternity Leave

New Jersey’s original paternity leave program began in 2009, but recent updates are changing the benefit for new dads. Current employees can receive up to 6 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds their wages, capped at $650 per week. Beginning July 1, 2020, workers can receive 80% of their salary, capped at $860 for 12 weeks of leave. The current revision of the law covers businesses with 30 or more employees (down from 50) and is also funded through payroll deductions. 

Washington DC Paternity Leave

For residents of the District of Columbia, a 2016 law provides for eight weeks of paid paternity leave effective July 2020. The DCFMLA allows for up to 16 weeks of job-protected time off, but only 8 are required to be paid. Eligible workers who earn up to 1 ½ times to current minimum wage will receive 90% of their wages during the leave period. There’s a sliding scale for workers at higher rates of pay. Businesses in the District will pay 0.62% of employee incomes beginning July 1, 2019 to cover the cost of the benefit. Self-employed workers can opt into the program at the same rate. 

Should my business have a paternity leave policy? 

For business, the option of offering paid or additional paternity leave (unpaid leave is already covered under the FMLA) may be a powerful draw to hire and retain talent. While most states and municipalities fund their programs through insurance-type pools, no such private coverage is yet available for business. The cost for employers may seem prohibitive, but weighed against the cost to replace talent it may be a viable option for business. 

In addition to helping workers move with family planning, paternity leave stresses the culture of an organization as employee-centric. As the war on talent continues to rage, any advantage an employer has in the marketplace is well worth exploring.   

This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.


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