Many people are familiar with the concept of maternity leave. It is a specified amount of time after a person gives birth in which they are allowed to be absent from work. Maternity leave is intended to allow the new family to rest, recover, and spend time together before returning to work.

There are other types of leave in the United States which allow family members to bond as a family with their new child (or children). These periods of leave are known as family leave, and can include time off for parents who are welcoming a child into their family through adoption or surrogacy.

Another form of family leave is paternity leave, in which the partner of the pregnant person is entitled to take time off from work. Again, the purpose of this time off is to bond with their new child and fulfill their caretaker duties. Although family leave seems like an obvious concept, not every employer offers paternity leave to their employees. Even those that do, do not generally provide pay to the employee while they are on leave. What this means is that a parent who takes paternity leave will be doing so at a loss, and as such, most parents will not take leave because they cannot afford to.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, or “FMLA”, is a federal labor law that requires covered employers to provide their employees with unpaid leave for qualified medical and family circumstances. As previously mentioned, not every employer offers paternity leave as a form of family leave. However, paternity leave is covered by the FMLA for those who qualify. Eligible employees are generally entitled to:

  • Twelve weeks of unpaid leave;
  • Medical and/or health benefits during their leave; and
  • The restoration of their original position once their leave has ended and they return to work.

The FMLA will be further discussed in a later section, as the Act contains much information that may be applied to paternity leave.

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Paternity Leave?

The most obvious benefit of paternity leave is that the person taking leave is allowed to spend quality time with their new child. This is important for a healthy work-life balance. Paternity leave allows for more efficient bonding between a parent and a child, and benefits the family as a whole. It allows the partner taking leave to better fulfill their responsibilities as a parent and a partner.

In terms of traditional gender roles and working, paternity leave helps to promote working women. Statistics have shown that not only do women work the same or more amount of hours as their male counterparts, they also fulfill many more hours of childcare responsibilities once they are home from work. Again, this assertion is based on traditional gender roles which are continually shifting and progressing.

The biggest drawback to paternity leave is that it is largely unpaid, when it is offered at all. Very few employers in the United States offer paid paternity leave and many employees cannot afford to miss out on that much income. This is especially true for lower income workers, and those affected by racial disparities and pay gaps. Time spent away from the family means a reduction in resources available to the family.

A person taking leave may use paid sick or vacation time instead of paternity leave in an effort to minimize economic loss. However, the reason for using those forms of leave must generally be approved before being granted. Additionally, not all employers offer paid vacation or sick days.

What Else Should I Know About the Family and Medical Leave Act?

Paternity leave is typically governed by state law. As such, paternity leave qualifications and specifications will likely vary from state to state. The exception to this rule is the FMLA, which guarantees employees who work for qualified businesses up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. As previously discussed, the employee is also guaranteed their position once they return from leave.

Employees who qualify for FMLA cannot be terminated for taking family leave. The FMLA also forbids discrimination against an employee who has taken family leave. An example of this would be if an employee was passed over for a promotion they were otherwise qualified for while they were on family leave.

The FMLA covers private employers who have fifty or more employees within 75 miles; the Act also covers state or federal governments and public schools. Some states have much more inclusive family leave policies than what is provided by the FMLA, and require paid leave. However, states that do entitle their employees to receive compensation during family leave have usually stipulated that the pay may not be equal to the employee’s regular salary or wages. Additionally, the pay may not come from the employer but the state itself.

Do I Need an Attorney for Assistance With Paternity Leave?

Employers subject to FMLA or state family leave laws could be in violation of those laws, should they deny a qualified parent the opportunity to take paternity leave. If you have been denied paternity leave after providing your employer with proper notice, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorney. An experienced employment law attorney can help you understand your rights and options, as well as represent you in court as needed.