Paternity Leave – What Does the Law Say?

Paternity Leave

Public Opinion

It’s not news that the percentage of women, especially mothers, in the workplace is on the rise and has been for some time. This obviously means that their partners (men, in most cases) are taking on more responsibilities at home. We already know that in the US, legislative support for working mothers who want to take leave from work to care for their babies is woefully lacking. But this is especially true for working fathers.

Research suggests that parental leave is good for gender equity in the workplace and at home, workplace morale, and employee retention, among other things. It has also shown that fathers who take leave after the birth of a baby tend to be more involved in caregiving activities later, when compared with fathers who do not take leave.

So should fathers be allowed time off work to care for their newborns? Most Americans say yes. According to a survey performed earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, 69% of Americans support paid leave for fathers after the birth or adoption of a child. What’s interesting (or perhaps not) is that this support is highest among women and younger adults, and it decreases with age. In the age group of 18 to 29 year olds, 82% support parental leave, whereas that number is only 55% in survey respondents aged 65 and older.

Regardless of public opinion, it’s important to start planning early for maternal and/or paternal leave. But what are the options? When expecting an addition to the family, it’s helpful to know if your employer or government supports your leave. We’ll cover the legal implications here.

Time Off

Let’s start with the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This provides men and women with job-protected leave for various caregiving purposes, including care for a newborn or newly adopted child. It does not, however, require that the employee taking leave be paid during their time off. To be eligible for FMLA, these requirements must be met:

  • Employers: public agencies and private firms employing at least 50 workers within 75 miles
  • Employees: must work 1,250 hours in a year and have worked at least 12 months for their current employer

Under FMLA, if parents choose to take leave, their jobs are protected, meaning they’ll have jobs when they return. However, FMLA does not require employers to pay their employees during this leave.

Many states have chosen to enact their own policies. States that currently have family medical leave laws are:

  1. California
  2. Connecticut
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Hawaii
  5. Maine
  6. Minnesota
  7. New Jersey
  8. New York
  9. Oregon
  10. Rhode Island
  11. Vermont
  12. Washington
  13. Wisconsin

Note that the legislation in each state is different. There are varying stipulations regarding number of employees, private versus public employers, length of employment, etc.

Wage Replacement

A few states have temporary disability insurance programs, which means the qualified individual can collect a percentage of the normal wage. These programs provide approximately 50-60% of the employee’s pay during leave, and they typically cover medical conditions such as pregnancy and childbirth. In other words, they only cover mothers.

However, there are 3 states in the US that currently provide paid leave to fathers:

  1. California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) program, established in 2002
    1. Earnings-based pay for up to 6 weeks
    2. Funded by mandatory employee contribution to the state disability insurance
  2. New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance, established in 2009
    1. Earnings-based pay for up to 6 weeks
    2. Also funded by deductions from employees’ wages
  3. Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program, established in 2013
    1. Earnings-based pay for up to 4 weeks
    2. Funded by employee payroll tax

New York will join this list on January 1, 2018; the Paid Family Leave Benefits Law was passed in 2016. In addition, Washington passed the Family Leave Insurance Law in 2007, which would provide partial pay for up to 5 weeks. However, it has not yet been implemented.

In summary, the state in which you live and the employer for whom you work has a lot to do with how much leave you’ll be entitled to when your little one arrives. Do your homework as early as possible in order to best prepare.

Mandy Armitage
Dr. Mandy Armitage is a board-certified physician and writer. She is passionate about education, for patients and clinicians alike. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, traveling, and attending live music events.

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