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Parental Leave: The Paternity Leave Movement is Trending

A G&A Series: Paid Family Leave

This 3-part series from G&A will cover:

Part 2 —

On Nov. 29, 2019, the global movement to provide leave for mothers after giving birth (maternity leave) celebrated a milestone anniversary. The date marked 100 years from the day the International Labor Organization adopted the Maternity Protection Convention of 1919—which called for:

  • 12 weeks of paid maternity leave
  • Free medical care during and after pregnancy
  • Job guarantees upon return to work, and
  • Periodic breaks to nurse infant children

The successful adoption of this landmark measure was brought about due to working women demanding fair labor standards in the aftermath of World War I – a time when women worked outside of the home in large numbers while men were on the battlefield.

In recent years, this movement has expanded to include paid leave for fathers (paternity leave) to allow them bonding time following the birth of a child, the adoption of a child, or if a child is placed for foster care.

But not all countries have followed suit. The U.S. is the only industrialized country without a national paid maternity leave policy and one of only a handful of nations without paid leave for fathers, according to the Harvard Business Review’s “How Small Companies Can Offer Great Paid-Leave Programs” by Joan Michelson. “That leaves U.S. firms to decide whether to provide paid leave to their employees who need time to care for themselves, new children, or loved ones,” states the article.

Following is a synopsis of current federal, state, and parental leave requirements in the U.S. and the emerging paternity leave trend—which calls for time off (paid or unpaid) for fathers to bond with children.

Federal, State, and Local Parental Leave Laws

Unpaid parental leave is available for eligible employees through the FMLA and/or other state leave laws. Paid parental leave can be offered as a part of a mandated paid family and medical leave (PFML) requirement or as a separate benefit. It depends on the company and sometimes state and local laws that require paid parental leave.

Federal Parental Leave Laws

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, parental leave under the FMLA grants unpaid, job-protected leave for childbirth, newborn care within one year of birth, and care for a child placed with the employees for adoption or foster care. Eligible employees can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, incapacity related to pregnancy, and to treat and recover from serious health conditions following the birth of a child.

FMLA applies to organizations with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius and workers who have been employed for at least 1,250 hours during the prior 12 months. It allows employees of covered employers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. Contract workers may be eligible for FMLA parental leave if hired by the employer, but independent contractors are not.

The only federal law that mandates paid parental leave is the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA). The law gives eligible federal employees (covered under Title 5) up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave after the birth of a child or the placement of a child with an employee for adoption or foster care—within the 12 months beginning on the date of birth or placement.

State and Local Paid Parental Leave Laws

Motivated by a competitive labor market and employees' demands for more time at home with their children, many U.S. employers are now creating or enriching paid parental leave policies.

A growing number of states, as well, have started offering paid parental leave. Program funding, wage replacement rates, and length of leave vary by location.

"The FMLA gives you job protection, but there's no income replacement," says Dave Berndt, J.D., HR Project and Training Manager for G&A Partners. "So now you have states that have passed paid family and medical leave plans that provide paid leave for a certain number of weeks, which includes bonding with a new child."

According to Policygenius' "A state-by-state guide to parental leave" by Myles Ma, U.S. states that mandate paid parental leave benefits include:

  • California (up to eight weeks)*
  • Connecticut (up to 12 weeks, plus another two if the employee experiences a serious health condition)
  • Massachusetts (up to 12 weeks)
  • New Jersey (up to 12 weeks)
  • New York (up to 12 weeks)
  • Rhode Island (up to four weeks)
  • Washington (up to 12 weeks)
  • Washington, D.C. (up to eight weeks)
*California also has a state disability program that will provide wage replacement for employees who are disabled by pregnancy or birth even before the Paid Family Leave kicks in.

In addition, these states mandate school-related parental leave, which generally allows parents and legal guardians to take time off from work to attend meetings and activities at their child's school or daycare:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington, D.C.

“For employers who may not be able to afford a paid program but want to retain their employees who may need protected time off – we are seeing more of these businesses provide protected unpaid leave to employees when they are not a covered employer under FMLA,” says Tiffani Guthrie, Manager, HR Advanced Support Services. “We’re also seeing employers paying for Short Term Disability (STD) plans for employees to supplement their time off for recovery from pregnancy or birth.”

Dads Too: Male Employees are Embracing Paternity Leave

Men play a critical role as involved parents and caregivers in their families, but few American employers have provided gender-neutral or paternity leave until recently—and some still do not. As a result, men often take no parental leave or shorter leave periods to avoid losing income and encountering workplace stigma. However, when men take paternity leave to support their partners and bond with their children, it has a tremendously positive impact on families and, in turn, the workplace.

Following are reasons the paternity leave movement is gathering steam in the U.S.:

Paternity Leave’s Storied History

Though paternity leave has been practiced in some countries for more than 50 years, it has been slow to take hold in the U.S.

“Since 1965, fathers in the United States have nearly tripled the time they spend caring for children, and working fathers are now just as likely as working mothers to say they find it difficult to manage work and family responsibilities,” states the National Partnership for Women and Families’ “Fathers Need Paid Family and Medical Leave.” “Yet most men still do not have access to leave that would allow them to take time away from work after the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a loved one with a serious health condition.”

In the early 1970s, one man tried to make a change by taking his employer to task. Gary Ackerman, a teacher in New York City, applied for a leave without pay when his daughter was about ten months old for childcare purposes. According to Time Magazine’s “Meet the Father of Paternity Leave” by Lily Rothman, after the district’s superintendent denied his leave application, Ackerman appealed the decision and was informed that the childcare leave policies of the Board of Education of New York only applied to female teachers. As a result, his wife, Rita, filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

“Since 1965, fathers in the United States have nearly tripled the time they spend caring for children, and working fathers are now just as likely as working mothers to say they find it difficult to manage work and family responsibilities."

— National Partnership for Women and Families

In 1973, the EEOC found that the mothers-only rule discriminated against male teachers, and the Board of Education removed the word “her” in its bylaws when referring to an “affected teacher.” From then on, fathers and adoptive parents were included in leave policies. “The determination is widely regarded as the groundbreaking first step toward paternity leave’s existence,” states the Time article.

If you are considering paid or unpaid leave for parents in your organization, G&A’s Tiffani Guthrie recommends that you be careful not to unintentionally write a discriminatory policy.

The Case for Paternity Leave

The Ackermans’ victory helped move the needle forward on paternity leave in the U.S., but it is still slow-moving. As mentioned in Article 1 of this series, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data shows that only 23% of private industry workers—of all genders—have access to paid family leave through their employer. Moreover, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families article, only 13% of workers are employed by companies that offer paid paternity leave to male employees.

Even if a company offers paid paternity leave, there are long-standing cultural barriers to overcome. For example, deep-rooted gender norms that cast males in the traditional “breadwinner” role can make it more challenging for men to take time off from work due to fears of stalling their careers or being ridiculed by work colleagues.

“Many fathers want to be more involved with their families, play a larger caregiving role, and support their partners’ careers,” states the National Partnership article. “But taking time away from work for family caregiving can bring harassment, discrimination or mistreatment that result in fathers being less likely to take the leave that is available to them.”

McKinsey & Co. interviewed 130 new fathers and their partners about their paternity leave experiences and summarized the benefits they came away with as follows:

  • Greater relationship stability: Ninety percent of the men interviewed reported an improved relationship with their partner, and their partners agreed that the support helped forge a stronger bond.
  • Stronger bonding experience: Several men said that the additional time spent at home allowed them to form a “special” bond with their child at an early age.
  • Equal distribution of responsibilities: Sharing parenting duties in the first months of a child’s life helped shape family dynamics and establish the foundation for an equal distribution of duties in the future.
  • Spousal support: Paternity leave provided relief for working mothers and helped the men support their partners’ career goals. One couple noted that parental leave allowed them to “preserve our profession, identity, and nonparental value and worth, which was great for our relationship.”
  • Increased employee satisfaction: Though 20% of respondents acknowledged they risked career setbacks by taking leave, most said the benefits outweighed the risks. Many said they felt more motivated after taking leave and considered staying with their organization longer.

Companies that have a parental leave policy are encouraged to help create a culture that encourages all employees—regardless of gender—to utilize its benefits to bond with their children and their partners. This includes ensuring that parents who take leave are not excluded from career advancement opportunities, are fully reintegrated when they return to the office, and are supported by family-friendly policies and benefits.

How G&A Can Help

G&A Partners offers you access to a team of HR regulatory experts who can help ensure you remain in compliance with all federal and state regulations. For more information on how outsourcing your HR to G&A can help you reduce your risk and get time back to grow your business, schedule a consultation with one of our trusted business advisors.