Home Blog Paternity Leave in the U.S. Leaves a Lot of Gaps

Paternity Leave in the U.S. Leaves a Lot of Gaps

February 14, 2020

How do you define parental leave? If you’re like most, you think of mothers taking time off work to give birth, and then spend time with her newborn. Multiple studies indicate that access to paid parental leave positively impacts postpartum health and overall wellness for both baby and mom.1 Despite the clarity of this data, the United States maintains no federal law guaranteeing paid parental leave. In fact, the only federal statute regarding parental leave is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents. In 2016, only 13 percent of American workers received pay for leave taken after the birth of a child, and the majority of this occurred in white collar industries. For industrial and retail jobs, the average dropped to seven percent.2

While it is generally established that maternity leave is important for mothers and for the development of a newborn, it is less widely accepted that parental leave should also include fathers. Paid paternity leave in the U.S. is guaranteed in only six states3, and while more than 80 percent of American workers believe mothers should have access to paid leave, less than 70 percent believe that fathers should have the same.4 Studies indicate that fathers overwhelmingly want to be able to spend time with their newborn children, but only 25 percent of fathers take more than a week off and a majority take only a single day.5

Paternity Leave Has Benefits—Not Just for Dads


As paid parental leave, including leave for dads, is gaining traction in the national discourse, an increasing number of companies have begun turning to this as a key benefit to attract top talent. When parents have access to paid time off, major tech companies like Google and Netflix have discovered that employee retention increases, and costly turnover decreases. Not only that, but access to paid leave enables new parents to avoid the need for government assistance to help make ends meet in the days after the arrival of a new baby.6

Paid Paternity Leave Is Possible


The main obstacle that keeps employers from embracing paid parental leave is the fear of a negative impact on the bottom line. Yet in California, where paid parental leave policies have been state law for over ten years, the data suggests that, in fact, paying moms and dads while they spend time with new babies has either a positive impact (by encouraging employee retention) or a neutral impact on profitability.7

With all of the benefits, many companies are now considering implementing generous parental leave policies. But how are these programs structured, and who pays for them? State laws in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia can guide employers on how to structure their parental leave policies. But in states where FMLA is the only guideline, there are a lot of questions to answer while structuring a solid paternity leave policy.

Work with Your Staff


Gather a task force from all levels of your company, including representatives from management, HR, accounting and, if possible, expectant employees or employees who have recently given birth. Gather ideas and create a safe space for employees to describe their experiences, and offer solutions to make the transition to parenthood easy for parents, and minimally disruptive to business-as-usual.

Define Eligibility


In the six states with defined parental leave policies, eligibility varies widely. Whether you define eligibility by number of hours worked, income level or by length of tenure with the company (usually upward of 26 weeks), it’s important to determine which employees will be offered paid leave, and which won’t. Keep in mind that turnover is costly at every level of your organization.

What Kind of Leave Will You Offer?


There are different kinds of parental leave. Intermittent leave is one-time leave, for something like a doctor’s appointment. By covering this sort of leave under a parental leave policy, employees don’t have to drain their PTO in order to care for a child. Reduced-schedule leave keeps an employee in the office, with hourly reduction to accommodate physical ability. Finally, the type of leave most workers are familiar with is block-of-time leave, typical after the birth of a child.

The Ultimate Dad Question: Who’s Going to Pay for It?


If you’re intending to offer new fathers paid leave, it can be difficult to figure out where the money will come from to cover payroll and benefits for a substantial period of time. Again, existing laws can provide a good framework. In some cases, employees contribute through payroll deductions, which may or may not be matched by employers. However you choose to fund your paternity leave policy, you can be sure that, statistically speaking at least, employees are willing to work with you to enable you to offer this benefit.

Take the Leap


The research is clear: Having both parents around for the first few months of life is undeniably good for early childhood development. Almost 90% of companies report no impact to their bottom line by offering paid leave for new parents.7 With this information, the real question is: What’s stopping your organization from offering paid paternity leave?

Labor and employment laws change frequently, and there are currently more than 180 federal laws governing the relationship between employers and employees and their combined efforts in the workplace. If you’re a human resources (HR) professional or business manager who could benefit from a deep dive into the nuances of HR and employment laws, consider an online Master of Jurisprudence in Labor & Employment Law.