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Paternity leave in the US: How to make it work for everyone

April 6, 2022 - 26 min read

man holds baby girl over shoulder-Paternity Leave in the US

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What is paternity leave?

How long is paternity leave in the US?

What is FMLA?

State paternity leave laws

Companies offering paid paternity leave in the US

Is there a need for paternity leave in the US?

How to prepare for paternity leave

The birth or adoption of a child marks the start of a unique time for families. While women often experience the most obvious change, experts now recognize it as a significant time for both parents. To help families (and individuals) thrive, early post-partum life or adoption includes bond-building between the new child and family.

In support, many countries and companies around the world provide workers with paid parental leave after childbirth. But while maternity leave is most common, paternity leave lags. 

Companies must at a minimum comply with the requirements of the country where their employees work. But companies can choose to offer better benefits, especially in countries that have trailed the global trend.  

A 2014 International Labor Organization report disclosed that 184 countries prescribe parental leave. Of these countries, 71 of the wealthiest nations provide paid paternity leave. Taking the lead are Japan, South Korea, and Portugal which grant the highest benefits to new fathers. 

Noticeably absent is the United States which has yet to implement paid family leave at the federal level. Only 21% of US workers have access to paid parental leave through employers.

In the US paternity leave is seen as much an employee benefit as it is a right for fathers. New dads are often expected to prioritize work-life, leaving the bulk of child care to new mothers. 

This negative standard toward children often sets the tone for interactions between father and child. It deprives fathers of participating fully in family life. It also establishes an uneven division of household labor that persists beyond the infant stage. 

With the right measures and changing expectations of younger generations of employees, a new outlook may form towards employee paternity rights in the United States.

This guide will examine the current landscape of paternity leave laws in the United States. Readers will learn the qualifications necessary to enjoy this benefit. We'll also look at the different methods of implementing leave laws. To explain passive attitudes to paternity leave, we'll look through the reasons parental leave is often overlooked by new dads.

Paid time off is a necessary benefit for all fathers. We will look at the companies that encourage this practice, as well as different ways to support new fathers to enjoy their leave.

What is paternity leave? 

Paternity leave is an employee benefit granted to expectant husbands, partners of pregnant women, surrogate fathers, or a person matched with a child for adoption. This leave ensures a period of weeks or months where a new father is allowed to stay home and bond with his partner and new child.


How long is paternity leave in the US?

In a majority of states across the country, expectant and new fathers are entitled to a period of 12 weeks unpaid, job-secured paternity leave.

But while time off is an expected right, in the U.S, unpaid leave is simply too expensive for most families to afford. However, California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia have active paid parental leave policies. Other states like Colorado and Oregon have this policy in view, although it is yet to come into effect.


What is FMLA?

At present, the federal governing law for parental leave in the United States is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). With this legislation, eligible American workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. These workers face no threats to job security within that time. 

Federal paternity leave laws in the US

A 2012 U.S Department of Labor survey disclosed that 90 million (59 percent) of American employees come under the FMLA. But this coverage takes effect in companies with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. These staff members must have worked at least 25 hours a week, for a minimum one-year period with the company. Alternately, the employee may have worked 1250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave period. 

The FMLA leave grants maternal or family time off to encourage bonding with a new child. But while this appears to normalize child care for both parents, it is far from a suitable arrangement for new or adoptive fathers and mothers. A 2018 report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked the US last of 41 countries that granted leave.

To compare, Japan provides 30 weeks off at full pay to qualified new fathers. In 2019, South Korea introduced a policy that entitled working fathers to 10 days of paid paternity leave within the first 90 days of a child’s birth. Going further, workers with children under nine may work fewer hours for up to two years. Likewise, Spain provides 16 weeks of paid time off for both parents at full compensation.

Who qualifies for paid paternity leave?

According to a 2020 survey distributed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just  20 percent of all workers have access to paid parental leave. 

In December 2019, President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. This legislation contained the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), an amendment to the FMLA. 

Besides employees of companies with 50 minimum workers, the federal law grants paid time off to new parents in the federal service.

Federal employees receive 12 weeks of paid time off following childbirth or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care.

These employees must have worked 12 months in a part or full-time role in the federal service. 

In America today, new fathers and mothers employed in small businesses do not enjoy paid time off. Also shut out are non-federal workers hired on part-time or temporary bases.

State paternity leave laws

Only a handful of states mandate parental leave. How they are structured and funded varies. Let’s take a closer look.


Qualified expectant parents may receive 60-70 percent of their weekly wages earned five to 18 months before the claim start date. 

New York

New parent entitlements cover 12 weeks of paid time off. This may occur within the first 12 months with the infant or adopted child. New fathers and mothers can receive up to 67 percent of usual pay up to a cap.

Massachusetts: This state provides up to 12 weeks of paid time off under the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave. Eligible workers must have earned $5400 in the preceding 12 months before applying for parental leave. 

New Jersey: Employees in New Jersey are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave. Eligibility is limited to workers that earn an average weekly pay of $240 or more. New parents may receive up to 85 percent of their weekly wage. This amount comes up to a maximum of $993.

Rhode Island: Under Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance, new parents are entitled to 60 percent of their wages for a maximum of 30 weeks. Under this law, the highest weekly wage parents on leave may secure is $978.

Washington: Here, parents may be entitled to 12-18 weeks of paid parental leave to care for a new child. Workers in Washington may receive up to 90 percent of their weekly wage, with a maximum weekly pay-out of $1327. 

Connecticut: New fathers and mothers looking to start or expand their family are entitled to 95 percent of their average weekly wage. This is up to an amount equal to 40 times the state minimum. Workers may also be eligible for 60 percent of their average weekly earnings above an amount that matches 40 times the state minimum. Paid parental leave is up to 12 weeks in Connecticut. 

District of Columbia: Employees are entitled to eight weeks of paid parental leave. This permits parents to connect with their infants, or adopted/foster children. This benefit comes in at 90 percent of a worker’s average weekly earnings. Here, earnings must be up to an amount that is 40 times 150 percent of the D.C minimum wage. Alternately, new parents are entitled to 50 percent of their weekly wage above an amount equal to 40 times 150 percent of the D.C minimum wage.

These programs are funded through deductions made from employer, employee, or both payrolls.

In New York, these deductions are consolidated into a fund where leave benefits are derived from.

California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have unique forms of Temporary Disability Insurance. Family leave benefits stem from this pool.

In 2019, Washington State and the District of Columbia began premium tax deductions to fund paid parental leave programs. While benefits in Washington were paid out in January 2020, D.C benefits began rolling out from July 2020.

Massachusetts and Connecticut followed similar programs to fund their paid family leave programs.

father-reads-book-to-baby-paternity leave-in-the-US

Companies offering paid paternity leave in the US

For many Americans, parental leave is a benefit every employee should receive. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 8 in 10 (82%) Americans support paid maternity leave, while 69% believe new fathers should receive paid time off.

For top organizations, a 2020 study found that 72% of fortune 500 companies granted some form of parental leave to their workers. Paid leave benefits substantially improved the welfare of expectant and new mothers. New fathers were also provided for.

In present America, a few companies stand out for their commitment to bettering the interests of the paternal workforce. According to Glassdoor, these are some of the best companies offering paid paternity leave include:

Microsoft. Microsoft is a real team-player when it comes to new fathers and their welfare. The tech giant provides a suitable work environment for both parents. Expectant mothers receive five months of paid leave. Parental leave benefits to fathers cover three months of paid time off to bond with their infants or adopted/foster care children.

This organization takes paternal welfare to the next level. Microsoft only partners with companies that offer twelve-week minimum leave to new fathers and mothers.

By using its massive influence, Microsoft is helping to shape workplace policies for better parent welfare.

Netflix. The streaming giant has upped the stakes for new parents working in its employ. New fathers and mothers are entitled to one year paid leave following the birth of a child, adoption, or foster placement.

These parents may choose to on a part-time basis within their year off. Despite a return, new parents remain free to resume their leave within the 12-month period.

This means parents enjoy one-year paid time off with the option to return to part-time duties. Netflix parents are also entitled to press pause on their partial return. This is to encourage more bonding time with their partner and child.

Deloitte. The professional services firm has topped lists identifying the best workplaces for dads. Deloitte has a program specifically designed for new fathers called Deloitte Dads. Here, birth, adoptive, foster, same-sex parents are granted 18 weeks of pain leave with superannuation included. New parents may also choose how the 18 weeks are spent.

A popular choice is two-day workweeks spread over a period of time. The company reports a 128% increase in men taking parental leave following this policy.

For added support, Deloitte provides a coaching program to dads and moms who are embarking on, or returning from parental leave. This is to ensure that they enjoy a good work-life balance without compromise.

BetterUp. While we weren’t on Glassdoor’s list, BetterUp is committed to helping employees thrive as parents and family units. Consistent with our commitment to the Whole Person™ we know that an individual’s performance and growth depends on their well-being

As part of BetterUp’s paid parental leave program, birth mothers receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave. All other parents are eligible for up to 8 weeks of paid parental leave for family bonding. Employees are further supported with coaches specializing in parenting, nutrition, and sleep in addition to their normal performance and leadership coach.

Other companies that support fathers and mothers to engage in more wholesome care include KPMG, Facebook, and Coca-Cola. 

It should be noted that the place of work, or industry can determine the quantity and quality of paternity benefits. While fathers in the private sector enjoy more opportunities for paternity leave, workers in the service industry may not. An estimated seven to eight percent of workers in the latter field have access to paid paternity leave.

Is there a need for paternity leave in the US?

Around the developed world, paternity leave has received its due recognition as a necessary benefit for workers. The U.S should be no different.

Paternity leave provides job protection for male workers intending to build families. This practice is fundamental for establishing the family dynamic. With fathers going on paid leave, there will be no little need to compromise on finances. 

American fathers require their leave to ensure a good work-life balance. Paid leave will also encourage better participation in parental activities.

5 ways parental leave benefits families

Infants rely heavily on a loving bond or attachment with a caregiver. In most cases, this caregiver is a parent, whose interactions affect the emotional, social, and cognitive development of a child

Likewise, in cases of older adopted or foster children, the first few weeks and months mark a crucial time for forming attachments.

Fathers should be given broad opportunities to bond and connect with their children early in their lives. This early relationship has the following benefits for family life:

  1. Encourages father-child bonding and helps fathers develop more confident, supportive parenting style
  2. Improves gender equity in home and work-life
  3. Provides healthy co-parenting opportunities for parents
  4. Time spent bonding with the child can strengthen the relationship between partners
  5. Levels the playing field for mothers


How paternity leave benefits businesses

Paternity leave may be a positive development for fathers in the workplace, but the company itself stands to gain from this practice. Companies that prioritize the welfare of new fathers may learn that it is good for business in the following ways:

  • It ensures that employees stay energized. Without paid paternity leave, fathers juggle the demands of work expectations from 9-5. The remainder of the day will be spent on family responsibilities, picking up the childcare baton from mom or another partner.

    By carrying out two full-time roles, this is the perfect recipe for burnout in the male worker population.

    Paternity leave permits fathers to focus on bonding with and caring for their children. When partners share childcare duties, this allows for a healthier balance in workload.

    At the end of the leave, fathers have a higher chance of returning to work refreshed and energized.
  • It is a useful perk for attracting top talent. Granting an attractive paternity leave package is a great way to set a company aside as a coveted employer.

    This feature provides very positive rewards for employer branding. Top talents are likely to flock to an organization that promotes their welfare. In contrast, companies with poor leave programs may be blacklisted and avoided by intending fathers.
  • Paternity leave is a plus for retaining star performers. An appropriate paternity leave program is a sure way to retain top performers in the company. Assuring parents of job security, paid time off, plus other benefits encourage company loyalty.

    Even better, these employees are likely to praise and recommend their employers. This is especially appealing to intending workers and other stakeholders in the industry.
  • This practice is a boost for company culture. The company creates a positive, modern hybrid culture and work experience when fathers can spend time with their spouses and children. This work environment may be related to improved productivity and morale in the workplace.
  • It creates a more equal work environment. By ensuring that both men and women are entitled to parental leave, equality is ensured in the workplace. The stigma women endure for taking time off for maternity leave will be shared with fathers. This promotes an equal opportunity work environment.

Why don’t dads take paternity leave?

Despite the merits in personal and work life, fathers remain reluctant to take paternity leave.

In the UK, only 2% of fathers take part in shared parental leave. This reluctance may be due to wage fears over unpaid leave. Likewise, some men may be discriminated against at work for taking paternity leave. Others may worry about possible damage to career trajectories. In some cases, fathers may refuse paternity leave because they consider it unnecessary to take time off for child care.

These valid reasons make it necessary for men to receive proper support when considering paternity leave.

How to prepare for paternity leave

Ensuring that parental leave is successful for both the parents and the company requires thoughtful planning. Paternity leave is no different. The company needs to set up a structured program and make the guidelines and expectations clear. 

Employees and employers want to avoid surprises and do everything possible to mitigate workload overburdening others. When they do this, fathers will be able to leave work and engage in the family more fully. They’ll also be able to return and reintegrate at work more seamlessly.

How can employees prepare for paternity leave?

Fathers looking to enjoy the earliest moments with their children need a game plan before going on leave.

This requires careful consideration of timing, workload, and expectations within the office. Employees may follow this plan before embarking on paternity leave:

  • Determine the family finances for the stretch of the leave. While paternity leave should address job insecurity, financial planning will ensure that needs and unforeseen expenses are covered when on leave.
  • Identify tasks that can be delegated to co-workers, and those that should be completed before leave. This keeps pending assignments in check, and will guarantee that duties are properly executed.
  • Inform colleagues and superiors beforehand. Early communication will prevent any blindsiding in the office. Managers and co-workers will be afforded a chance to plan around paternity leave.
  • Customers and other relevant clients should also be notified of the impending paternity leave. This will maintain the working relationship. It also keeps clients abreast of developments that can affect regular interaction.

Very importantly, a soon-to-be father should ensure that he is mentally, emotionally, and physically set for this chapter. This new role can be challenging and should be approached with a healthy mindset.

How managers can support an employee taking leave

The world is coming to terms with the importance of paternity leave for the homefront and workplace. In 2017, an ILO report disclosed that the number of countries with statutory paternity leave provisions rose from 40 to 94 between 1994 and 2015.

In America, the federal government is contemplating its paternity leave policy. The Biden democratic administration intends to provide four weeks of federal paid family and medical leave. This program will be executed through the Build Back Better Plan which may be available to workers by 2024. 

Managers at the workplace have a role to play in making fathers more comfortable with enjoying parental leave. This may be achieved by:

  • Encouraging a work culture that promotes paternity leave. For example, coaching sessions to educate fathers on parental leave benefits may suffice. Likewise, sessions on good work-life balance can provide needed support.
  • Ensuring that paid parental leave options are available to fathers. This will remove the financial fears attached to parental leave, and can provide a needed anchor while focusing on childcare.

It's important to educate managers and co-workers on appropriate behavior towards paternity leave. These workers should be brought on board to support parental leave policies.

Moving forward

Paternity leave should be an expected right in the workplace. By giving new fathers the opportunity to form connections with their children and partners, the workplace will encourage healthy familial relations. Likewise, organizations stand to gain from providing workers with this benefit.

Nationwide, policies are required to ensure fathers have ample time and resources to bond with their families. This will not only strengthen the family unit, but employee satisfaction in the workplace.


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Published April 6, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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