The concept of maternity leave is familiar to most of us. Maternity leave is a specified period of time off work offered to mean after they give birth. It is a specified amount of time after a woman gives birth in which they are allowed to be absent from work. The point of maternity leave is to allow a new mother to rest, recover, and spend time with her infant before returning to work.
Published research has shown that an adequate period of maternity leave can prevent depression and stress in mothers, increase the probability that their babies will receive well-baby care, and even lower the infant mortality rate, as well as mortality for young children.
Other types of leave in the United States allow family members to take leave from work to bond with their new child (or children). This type of leave is known as family leave. It often includes time off for either parent, mother or father, who is welcoming a child into their family through adoption or surrogacy.
Another form of family leave is paternity leave, in which the partner of a new mother is entitled to time off from work after the birth of a child. Again, the purpose of this time off is to allow the father to bond with their new child and fulfill their caretaker duties.
Although all forms of family leave seem like an obvious concept, not every employer offers paternity leave to their employees. Even those who do offer paternity leave, generally do not provide pay to the employee while they are on leave. What this means is that a parent who takes paternity leave sustains a loss of earnings. For this reason, most parents do not opt to take leave, because they cannot afford to.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that requires employers to which the law applies to provide their employees with unpaid leave of a specified length for certain defined medical and family circumstances. As stated above, few employers offer paternity leave as a form of family leave. However, paternity leave is provided by the FMLA for those who qualify under its terms. The FMLA requires the employers to which it applies to give both male and female employees unpaid family leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
As a federal law, the FMLA applies in all states in the U.S. Eligible employees are generally entitled to:
- Twelve work weeks of unpaid leave in a period of twelve months for:
- The birth of a child and caring for the newborn child within the first year of its birth;
- The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the child within the first year of its placement;
- Providing care to the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
- For the employee whose serious health condition makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job;
- For any qualifying situation that arises from the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;”
- Medical and/or health benefits during the period of leave; and
- The right to return to their original position when the leave ends and they return to work.
The states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington and the District of Columbia offer qualified employees in those states paid family and medical leave. The laws that authorize paid family and medical leave are currently in effect in six of the states and in the District of Columbia. A paid family and medical leave law is scheduled to take effect in September of 2023 in Oregon and in January of 2024 in Colorado.
The United States is one of the few developed countries in the world that does not offer its workers a nationwide paid family and medical leave policy.