Father’s Day is a time to celebrate dads. But in the US, it’s not always easy for dads to get off to a great start with their newborns. Even as the vast majority of the public says it is equally important for dads to bond with babies as it is for mothers, men often won’t take parental leave or take shorter amounts of time off because the leave is either unpaid or they don’t want to face workplace stigma, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Not only is there no federally-mandated paid leave for new parents (data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) actually puts the US last among 41 nations for paid leave) but only a handful of states extend family leave to both parents. This is a problem considering more families have two working parents and child care responsibilities are falling into the laps of both.
The traditional role of fatherhood has been evolving for generations. Fathers today play a larger caregiver role but the longer dads are away from work caring for their children, the more harassment or discrimination they could face at work.
The good news is the times they are a-changing. Multiple bills related to paid and unpaid family and medical leave were enacted by more than 30 states in the last several years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The bills fall under family medical leave, state pregnancy leave statutes and COVID-19 pandemic response.
Current Parental Leave Laws
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The federal FMLA allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons while keeping their health insurance coverage. The FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for the following reasons:
- the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth
- the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement
- to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
- a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job
- any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”
- State Laws: As mentioned above, some states provide family medical leave, extending the FMLA provisions or employee eligibility
- California: Along with adding four months of unpaid maternity leave, the state’s Paid Family Leave insurance program provides up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent or registered domestic partner or to bond with a new child.
- Connecticut: The state expands on the FMLA by offering up to 16 weeks in two years for the birth or adoption of a child or placement of a child in foster care.
- D.C.: Eligible employees in D.C. may receive up to 16 weeks of family leave, plus 16 weeks of medical leave for their own serious health condition during a two-year period.
- Hawaii: The state offers employees up to four weeks per year. Also permitted are intermittent leave for birth, adoption placement and to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
- Maine: Eligible employees receive up to 10 weeks in two years for the birth of a child or adoption of a child age 16 or younger.
- Massachusetts: Up to 24 hours per year leave to participate in children’s educational activities or accompany a child, spouse, or elderly relative to routine medical appointments, under the Small Necessities Leave Act.
- Minnesota: The state offers employees up to six weeks leave for the birth or adoption of a child. It does not require spouses to share leave and extends benefits to family members who are killed or injured while in the armed forces.
- New Jersey: The state offers unpaid leave up to 12 weeks but also paid leave for up to two-thirds of wages up to $524/week for six weeks. The paid leave must run concurrently with FMLA.
- New York: The state offers paid leave that increases over a period of four years. Starting Jan.1, 2018, the maximum leave period is eight weeks. From Jan. 1, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020 the maximum leave period is 10 weeks and becomes 12 weeks starting Jan. 1.
- Oregon: Oregon offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. An additional 12 weeks per year is available to care for the employee’s ill or injured child who does not have a serious health condition but who requires home care.
- Rhode Island: Along with 13 weeks of unpaid leave in two years for the birth or adoption of a child, the Rhode Island Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program provides four weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a new child or to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
- Vermont: Up to 12 weeks in 12 months for parental or family leave. Allows the employee to substitute available sick, vacation, or other paid leave, not to exceed six weeks. Does not require spouses to share leave, which means both partners can care for the child at the same time.
- Washington: The Washington Family Leave Act provides up to a total of 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period for the birth of a child, the placement of a child for adoption or foster care. The Act also allows workers with available paid sick leave to use it to care for a sick child.
These laws do not distinguish between moms or dads for parental leave and many recognize stepparents and partners as well. Federal and state laws are a great starting point, but employers can make it even easier for dads, and moms, to take time off to care for their children.
Parental Leave Benefits Companies Can Offer
Even though parents are entitled to take leave under the FMLA, you’d be hard pressed to find those who wouldn’t experience hardship from going without a paycheck for 12 weeks. The federal government recognized this and in 2019 enacted legislation giving many civilian federal government employees access to paid parental leave. The law grants 12 weeks of paid parental leave to eligible employees who have welcomed a new child in their homes through birth, adoption or foster care.
Other big companies are offering enhanced parental leave benefits to their employees.
The software company updated its benefits package to include:
- Expanding paid bonding leave for new parents to 12 weeks from eight weeks, in addition to covering pregnancy leave as short-term disability for birth mothers.
- Letting new parents work a part-time schedule for up to four weeks with full-time pay. Intel also will provide breast milk shipping at no cost.
- Offering short-term disability coverage at regular pay for up to 52 weeks.
The insurance and financial services firm expanded family medical leave benefits to both full and part-time workers. Benefits include:
- Employees can take a Paid Family Leave for a number of reasons including bonding with a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed foster child, and caring for a family member with a serious health condition.
- Sun Life also expands the definition of family, which allows employees to take time to care for someone related by blood or affinity who is equivalent of a family relationship, or chosen family.
- Employees have access to the employee assistance program which provides emotional, financial or legal support.
- Sun Life offers a variety of leave options from sabbaticals to vacation and floater days.
Why You Might Want to Consider Offering These Benefits
For many companies, providing workers with weeks of paid time off might be a tough pill to swallow. But when it comes to parental leave, paying employees not to work can actually allow companies to come out ahead financially. How? It is always more cost-effective to retain employees versus hiring new.
According to Business News Daily, employees in states with paid leave policies had higher morale and productivity, leading to lower turnover. Costs can quickly escalate for companies with high turnover. Hiring a new employee requires recruiting costs, onboarding costs, training costs and unfilled time.
Research shows that US states with paid leave policies experience a 20% reduction in the number of women leaving their jobs during the first year after giving birth and 50% after five years. Researchers also found the family PTO nearly closed the gap in workforce participation between mothers with young children and those without. This is important at a time when skilled labor is projected to be in increasingly short supply. Companies want to avoid losing women in their workforce due to conflicts with family care requirements.
And paid leave can offer companies a competitive edge when it comes to recruiting. According to Harvard Business Review, more candidates say a paid leave policy has some bearing on where they chose to work and half say they’d rather have more paid leave than a pay raise.
Things to Consider when Implementing a Paid Leave Policy
Even though paid leave policies might be universally welcomed by employees, as with any policy change employers need to make sure it aligns with any mandatory requirements. Some things HR must consider include:
- Compliance issues
- Buy-in from employees covering those on leave
- An inclusive plan that covers all employees
- How to communicate the policy to employees
- State rules and regulations
- Evaluating your budget
Implementing a parental leave policy that includes dads may be easier said than done but it could be a requirement in the near future. As more employers get on board with this benefit, legislation could quickly follow, especially since the federal government is one of those employers. . And if you need more convincing, read our blog on how to calculate your turnover rate to see if a policy will be more cost effective than continually recruiting and hiring new workers.