Paternity leave is the time that a new father will take off from his job for the birth or adoption of his new child, and the bonding time that follows. Not nearly as well-known as maternity leave, paternity leave is now a legal right for many men. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid leave for certain employees, and in some states such as California and Massachusetts, paid paternity leave is available for fathers who have a separate legal right to receive pay during leave.

What Does the FMLA Provide for Fathers?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees, including fathers, unpaid, job-protected leave for 12 weeks each year for the birth or adoption of a child (and other qualifying life events). This means that the employee may return to their job with the same benefits, salary, seniority, and working environment as before.

However, the employer is not required to allow the employee to accrue benefits such as vacation time, 401k contributions, stock options, accrued time toward seniority, or vesting of the company-matching investment.

In order to be eligible for leave, the employee must have been employed with their employer for at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours for those 12 months, and be working for a company that employs at least 50 employees in a 75 mile radius. In California, the New Parent Leave Act applies similar protections to employees, except they also apply to smaller employers with as few as 20 to 49 employees.

Each state is different when it comes to paternity leave. An experienced employment law attorney will be able to help you determine benefits to which you are entitled.

What If My Employer is Denying Paternity Leave?

If you and your employer are qualified for paternity leave through the FMLA, then you must file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) under the Department of Labor. Filing a complaint is free and it allows the WHD to conduct their investigation. If they believe that your complaint has merit, then they will take action against your employer on your behalf.

They can either file a lawsuit against your employer or they can force your employer to take action. If you do not file a complaint with WHD within two years, then you will lose your right to file a complaint. But if your employer is willfully breaking the law (knowingly and on purpose) then you will have three years to file your complaint.

Should I Consult a Lawyer If My Employer Punishes Me for Taking Paternity Leave?

It is always a good idea to consult an employment lawyer when dealing with any type of retaliation. If you have not yet taken paternity leave, be sure to check your employer’s paternity leave policy. If you qualify under the FMLA or your state’s laws, give your employer proper notice before taking leave. In the event that you are being punished by your employer for taking paternity leave, contact an employment lawyer immediately. An attorney will be able to determine your rights and the remedies to which you may be entitled.