Paternity Leave - What Are the Options for Dads?

by NDFAuthors

  • May 15, 2016

Paternity leave is very important, however, unlike maternity leave, it is not as well studied with most expectant fathers unaware of the options available to them.

Parental leave describes a temporary period of absence of employment that is granted to expectant or new parents during the months immediately before and after childbirth. Internationally, these policies are more geared towards women to support a mother’s full recovery from childbirth and to facilitate a strong mother-child bond. Similar to maternity leave, paternity leave is also very important, however, unlike maternity leave, it is not as well studied with most expectant fathers unaware of the options available to them.

Paternity Leave Laws in United States

Copyright: Tania Kolinko

Copyright: Tania Kolinko

In the United States, paternity leave applies to both the birth or the adoption of a child. However, with the exception of a few progressive companies, this kind of leave is barely compensated. By federal law, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are required 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after birth or adoption. At the end of the leave, the employer must allow the employee to return to the same job or a similar job with the same salary, benefits, working conditions and seniority.

Although there are a few exceptions, in the United States typically one is eligible for this type of leave if they meet both of the following conditions and inform their employer at least 30 days prior to when leave would be taken.

  1. One works for the federal government, a state or local government, a public or private elementary or secondary school, or any company that has 50 or more employees working 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year and residing within 75 miles of his or her workplace
  2. One has worked for his or her employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during the previous year
Copyright: Halfpoint

Copyright: Halfpoint

Regarding benefits, while one is on leave, the employer is required to keep him or her on the same health insurance plan. If the parent chooses to leave the company or the job is terminated, the employer would put the parent on COBRA where he or she would be entitled to the same health care plan as before but would have to pay the entire premium. The FMLA doesn’t require employers to allow employees to accrue benefits or time towards seniority while on leave.

The biggest reluctance of why men don’t often take paternity leave is because they fear that it would hurt their career. Although it is considered illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee who has taken leave, there is no sure way to tell how one’s job would be affected. Although perceptions are starting to change as we learn more about the importance of paternity leave, such societal pressures still serve as a huge deterrent to many expectant fathers.

While I have now presented the options for expectant fathers in the United States, I will now shift focus as to why taking paternity leave is so important.

The Importance of Paternity Leave

Copyright: goodluz

Copyright: goodluz

An online forum provides articles and videos to assist fathers to, “become the dad they aspire to be,” greatly promotes paternity leave and breaks its importance into five major categories:

  1. Bonding – It is known that babies are extremely social and eager to learn more about their environment as soon as they are born. Although they will spend a majority of their time resting, they will also open their eyes and search for security, love and care. It is this period when a father should continue the conversations he had with his unborn child as the baby will recognize the voice and be comforted to know that his or her father is around.
  2. Helping hand – When parents have a baby, they realize that they will have to use both their hands full-time. A mother, who is still recovering from the pregnancy, will more than surely have her hands full. An extra pair of hands from dad can prove to make all the difference.
  3. Learning the ropes – The first few days after a child is born is very difficult for the parents. Paternity leave allows time for fathers to gain confidence and skills in their new role as a dad. These skills range from changing diapers, to burping the baby, to putting the baby to sleep to giving the baby a bath. Although these tasks seem simple, when they suddenly pile up, parents discover that there is a lot of responsibility.
  4. Overcoming the anxiety – When the baby finally arrives, anxiety is bound to kick-in as parents wonder how well they will fare and even questions regarding finances may arise. A paternity leave may allow fathers some time to reach out to people who are more experienced and find effective solutions to cope with the stress.
  5. Building on your relationship – Paternity leave allows for time where fathers may strengthen their relationship foundation with their significant other. It is important for parents to be there for each other emotionally and important for them to make sure that the other parent is indeed doing okay. A healthy foundation between parents can have a great and positive impact on a baby’s development.

It is evident that both maternity and paternity leave are very important. Although the United States is very progressive, when it comes to some issues like paid maternity leave, they are still behind many nations. Hopefully spreading awareness of the importance of the first few weeks of a baby’s life will encourage more people and their companies to further encourage both types of parental leave.