The 411 on Paternity Leave in the United States

paternity leave feature

A recent survey found that 9 out of 10 dads would like to be able to take paternity leave to be with their spouse and newborn. Yet the opportunity to do so continues to be reasonably low in the United States. Currently, 92 countries offer paternity leave and the U.S. isn’t one of them.

How to Know if you are Entitled to Paternity Leave

Start by checking your company’s policies. More and more companies are understanding the need for family leave. So, some have started offering fully paid parental leave as a benefit. For example, fathers working at Netflix can take unlimited leave the first year a child is born or adopted. Meanwhile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers both mothers and fathers six months of paid leave. Starbucks, American Express, Google, Lenovo and Etsy all have some fantastic paid paternity leave plans too.

Related: Starbucks helps pay for IVF treatment for employees

State and Federal Laws on Paternal Leave

The only federal law for paternity leave in the US is based on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This leave is unpaid, so it can be a difficult financial decision. Based on this act, most new parents can take up to 12 weeks of leave if:

  • You have worked for your organization for a minimum of 12 months and a total of 1250 hours in the past year
  • Your organization has 50 or more employees

As for state laws, the following states offer the following paternal leaves:

  • California: 60 to 70% of income for up to 6 weeks. It is expected that these numbers will rise again in 2021.
  • New Jersey: Up to two-thirds of your income for up to 6 weeks
  • New York: 50% of your income for 8 weeks. It is expected that it will increase to 67% of your income from 2022 onwards.
  • Rhode Island: Up to 60% of your income for 4 weeks
  • Washington D.C.: Up to 90% of your income, depending on your income.

Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio allow you to use six weeks of advanced sick leave if you are a municipal employee. A paid leave bill was put forth in 2009 but it has yet to pass. It is expected that Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont will soon pass a paid leave bill too, with Massachusetts expected to be the first among these states.

Will I Hurt My Career by Taking Paternal Leave?

As long as your income is not in the top 10% of the company’s, FMLA guarantees that you can retain your role or a similar one, your pay, hours, and benefits when you come back from your time off. If this doesn’t turn out to be the case, try to reason with your employer. If that doesn’t go well either, get in touch with your regional office of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

When to Request Leave?

The best course of action for you and your career would be to speak to your employer as early as possible that you have a child on the way, and that you would like to take some time off. If you plan to use the FMLA, you should inform your employer a minimum of 30 days ahead. This will give them time to think about how to best give you time off and how to keep things running smoothly while you’re away. It would also be beneficial if you thought things over from their perspective. Offer them solutions about how your roles can still be managed while you’re away (e.g., having a replacement, working extra hours before the baby gets here to compensate for your time off). Communicate as much as possible with your employer so that you seem committed to your job.

Stigmas Around Paternal Leave and Why We Should Overcome Them

It has been found that taking paternal leave and helping out around the home means mothers are less likely to experience mastitis, have a need to see specialists or consume antibiotics, and have better mental health. These effects can happen even if the dad takes as little as a day or two off work.

Fathers taking time off also becomes a two-way pay-off in the long run. Babies learn to trust their dad from a very young age and fathers become more invested and involved in their child’s future. This, in turn, makes them become better fathers. Fathers having skin-to-skin contact with their babies just like mothers from an early stage has also been found to play a key role in a baby’s development.

Taking paternal leave and being at home also offers the perspective of caregiving and exactly how much needs to be done in a house with a newborn in tow. This will make fathers want to help out. After a few months, mothers can go back to the workforce or continue their roles remotely while alternating family leave and responsibilities with the dad.

More importantly, times are changing. Millennial dads want to be home with their children. They’re just as willing as mothers to structure their entire careers around that of the child’s needs. Nearly 28% of dads in STEM changed careers or their hours to be more flexible and accessible towards their family’s needs after the arrival of their child. Today, some fathers are even willing to leave their company if their need for flexible hours or time off isn’t met.

Fathers demonstrating how much they need paternal leave will cause a shift in society’s attitude towards fathers playing a role in their child’s upbringing. By taking your paternal leave, you’re supporting your partner and your child, and you’re helping society move forward.

What to Do During Your Leave

Here are some things you can do to play your part while on paternity leave:

  • Do chores around the house such as sorting out dinner or cleaning up
  • Find other new parents and bond with them so that you have a community to learn and grow with
  • Learn, practice and do the parenting stuff – changing diapers, helping your partner during late-night feedings, rocking your baby to sleep
  • Use it as an opportunity to take a break (that is probably much needed) from work

More importantly, don’t neglect your relationship with your partner during this time. It will be fairly difficult to plan dinner dates or movies like you used to. So, do what you can such as planning a special lunch date or an afternoon out with your new baby.

At the end of the day, taking paternity leave is how you demonstrate a need in society for it. The more fathers take paternal leave, the more it will start to become a convention in society and normalized behavior. It also goes without saying that taking paternal leave means a distributed workload at home causing a more balanced and happier family.

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