Career Advice

What Is Paternity Leave?

As any new parent will tell you, the first few weeks with your newborn will be exhausting. In the first few weeks of their lives, your baby will only sleep a few hours at a time (sometimes as little as two-hour intervals) and require multiple feedings a night until they get settled into their routine. Because of this and the recovery time moms need to heal from their pregnancy and birth is why maternity leave was created. 

However, it’s not just moms that need to adjust to these changing family dynamics. Despite the active role new fathers play in the caretaking of their children, paternity leave is still not as widely accepted as it should be. While many states are beginning to place a bigger emphasis on paternity leave, only 5% of new fathers take time off after the birth or adoption of their child. 

If you are expecting a new baby soon, it’s a good time to get acquainted with what paternity leave is and how to navigate it. 


What is Paternity Leave?

Paternity leave refers to the time a new father takes off work to adjust to the birth or adoption of a new child. This time off varies from a few weeks to a few months depending on the company and the laws set forth by the state in which the parents live. 

For example, paternity leave can be paid or unpaid, be a benefit offered from the company they work for or be required by the state government. As it stands, there is no federal mandate in the United States that requires employers to offer paternity leave to any of their staff. However, certain states such as New York, New Jersey, California, Washington D.C., and Rhode Island do. So, if you reside in one of those states, you’ll have the opportunity to take time off to bond with your new child. 


Eligibility for Paternity Leave

As mentioned earlier, determining eligibility for paternity leave will depend on the new father’s employer. For example, employers that have at least 50 employees are required to give new parents up to 12 unpaid weeks off as outlined under the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take care of a new child. Furthermore, employees working at an FMLA-covered company must also have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the previous year at the same employer. 

These FMLA benefits also extend to those who work at a private or public elementary, middle, or high school, as well as anyone employed by the local, state, or federal government. 


What’s the Difference Between Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave?

Aside from the fact that paternity leave is strictly offered to men and maternity leave strictly offered to women, the biggest difference between them is how they’re treated. Since there is no federal mandate, leave policies will vary from company to company. 

In most cases, when paid leave is offered to an employee, it will either be comprised of sick or vacation leave or short-term disability. Short-term disability offers protection for a short time frame in which the employee is unable to work. In the United States, pregnancy is considered a short-term disability. As such, this paid or partially paid leave will only apply to women, which is the biggest difference between them aside from the stigma.


Is Paternity Leave in the US Evolving?

The United States lags behind many other countries that have had established paternity leave programs such as Norway and Canada for quite some time. And since it usually remains unpaid, most new fathers fail to use it because they can’t afford to miss out on any income. In fact, when surveyed, most men said they would not take paternity leave unless 70% of their salary was protected. Unfortunately, as it stands, the highest recorded rate was in New York, which covered 66% of a new father’s salary when he was on paternity leave. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic showed an increased demand for paternity leave throughout the United States. With more people working from home, some new parents have adopted the mind-frame of not taking leave simply because they’re no longer commuting to and from the office. However, studies have shown that bonding with a new child is incredibly important for their development, so even if you work remotely, taking parental leave is still encouraged.

According to UC Davis Health, “fathers need quiet time to spend holding their new babies close, gazing into their eyes, talking to them and comforting them when distressed,” as this coupled with the mother’s bonding through breastfeeding can create more confident and secure children as they age. 

Simply put, bonding time is necessary for both parents. And, if the COVID-19 pandemic taught employers anything, it’s that the increased need for flexibility in the workplace continues to be an ever-evolving desire for many parents, especially when it comes to childrearing and parental leave. 


How to Navigate Paternity Leave

When it comes to navigating paternity leave, the most important step new fathers can take is talking with their employers to find out if they are a covered-FMLA company. Knowing your rights ahead of time can prevent you from getting false information. 

Here are a few things you can do to better prepare for requesting and taking paternity leave: 

  1. Figure out when you want to take it: Do you and your partner wish to be home during the same time? Or, do you prefer to stagger it? FMLA benefits allow new parents to take those 12 weeks off within the first year, so both parents need to determine the best strategy before requesting it. 
  2. Ask if you can afford it: Unfortunately, since paternity leave tends to be unpaid, parents could be facing severe financial struggles upon bringing home a new baby, so once you’ve figured out how much time you want to take, you need to ask yourself if you can afford it. If you can, great. However, if you can’t, try to develop a plan to save up money that way you’re as prepared as you can be. 
  3. Ask your boss for flexibility: If you can’t afford to take off the time you need, ask your boss if they’re okay with teleworking temporarily. Since there is still a stigma around paternity leave, it’s best to have an open and honest conversation with your boss about what your plans are and how you will delegate tasks to someone else around the office in your absence so there are no business interruptions. 
  4. Keep suitable boundaries: If this is your first baby, chances are you’ve underestimated just how exhausting and overwhelming the first few weeks are going to be. As such, set realistic boundaries as to when your job will be able to get a hold of you while you’re home, and try not to overcommit simply because you’re not in the office. 


Paternity Leave is Becoming More Common, But Employers Need to Do Their Best to Accommodate

Society has moved a long way from traditional gender roles, and employers need to continue seeing the value in providing paternity leave to their employees. Regardless of their industry, employees tend to be more loyal to companies that offer them benefits such as paternity leave, so it can be a win-win, not only for the new dads who get to stay home and bond with their child but for employers looking to avoid high employee turnover rate.