Paternity Leave in the U.S.: How Does the Law Benefit Dads?

Bringing another human being into this world is pure unparalleled excitement. Just looking at your newborn will surely be a tremendous source of pride and joy. You’ll have a chance to connect with another life that is your own flesh and blood. Moreover, you’ll have the opportunity to shape human consciousness in such a way that will be helpful to the rest of humanity, ideally. 

However, with great joy comes great responsibility and challenges. After all, you’re going to be in charge of another human being who’ll be entirely dependent on you. 

In the first few months of their life, you’ll need to be as hands-on as possible. This accountability is assigned to the mother by default. Biologically, moms are considered the primary caregivers of their newborns since they provide breastmilk. This is why maternity leave laws are in place. However, in many cases, those laws don’t suffice.

Newborns need their fathers, too. Also, moms who recently went through childbirth require the support of the father of their child. This is where paternity leave laws come in. Unfortunately, the United States still lags behind other economically progressive countries in terms of childbirth benefits afforded to fathers. 


Corporate America’s Problem with Paternity Leave

It all boils down to business. Corporate America offers maternity leave, but those benefits pale in comparison with what other developed countries reward their new moms. For instance, Estonia provides 84 weeks of maternity leave with full pay. Meanwhile, the U.S. has yet to come up with a national statutory paid maternity leave. 

As a result, the most noteworthy benefit new mothers can have is up to 12 weeks of maternity leave sans salary. This simple fact complicates the subject of paternity leave and its potential enactment on a national and standardized scale. 

There’s inherent sexism to this state of affairs. It’s as if corporate America has agreed that it’s okay for new moms to put a pause on their careers so that they can take care of their newborns. Meanwhile, dads are expected to stay in the workplace and have little to do with raising the baby. 

This way of thinking inevitably yields gender-based workplace discrimination, such as the gender pay gap. Corporate America gives more value to the importance of men at the workplace; therefore, they have a reasonable, if unethical and unlawful, excuse to pay women less.

However, not all men will be quick to claim that privilege. Some dads would be more inclined to leave work for a while if only so they could help out their wives and look after their newborns. If this statement resonates with you, it’s about time you ask: why aren’t fathers given paternity leave? 


Paternity Leave Around the World

OECD countries have different paternity leave laws. Here’s a look at some of them.

  • Japan – New fathers are eligible for 30 weeks of paternity leave with full-rate equivalent. The first 180 days are paid at 67% of earnings. The remaining days—up to a total of 52 weeks—are paid at 50%. Paternity leave salary is tax-free. While progressive on paper, in 2017, only 5% of those who qualified for paternity leave took the opportunity. Reasons for this include staff shortage, among others.
  • South Korea – Three to five days of paternity leave are given to new dads. The first three days are paid, while the remaining two days are unpaid. They can choose to extend parental leave to up to a year. The first three months are paid at 80%, while the remaining months are paid at 50%. In total, that’s 53 weeks of paternity leave. In 2018, men accounted for only 17% of parental leaves claimed. This small turnout is mainly due to the repercussions of paternity leave on their careers.
  • Spain – Between 2016 and 2019, Spain offered paternity leave from two to eight weeks. In 2020, that number increased to 12 weeks. This year, Spain’s new dads are allowed a maximum of 16 weeks of paid leave at 100%. That is the same length of parental leave offered to new moms.
  • Sweden – After childbirth, fathers are allowed ten days of paternity leave paid at 78% of their total salary. As an option, parents can divide between them a total of 480 days of parental leave. Eligibility for extended parental leave relies on work history and household income. If eligible, each parent will get 195 days paid at 78% and 45 days paid about $19/day.
  • Iceland – Fathers are allowed three months of non-transferable leave. Couples have an additional three months of paid parental leave, which they can divide between them. Parental leave is paid at 80% of an employee’s total salary.
  • Canada – New dads get between five to eight weeks of non-transferable parental leave paid at a fraction of their total earnings.
  • Mexico – The country gives five days of paternity leave with full pay.
  • United States – There’s no national policy regarding paid paternity leave. The most relevant law that covers parental leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).


The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA should not be confused with a comprehensive paternity leave policy, nor does it qualify as a parental leave statute per se. It’s more of a broad stroke law that allows parents to balance their careers with their responsibilities to their family. 

Each year, eligible employees are provided with up to 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected leave. The latter stipulation means you cannot lose your job for maximizing the policy. That is so long as you’re on the same page as your employer in terms of why you need to exhaust the FMLA.

The FMLA cites the following reasons for leave eligibility

  • The birth and care of the newborn child of an employee
  • An employee adopts or foster cares a child
  • An employee needs to look after an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
  • An employee cannot work due to a serious health condition

Employees need to pass the following criteria to be eligible for FMLA leave:

  • Rendered at least 12 months of work for their employer or at least 1,250 hours of service over the past 12 months
  • Worked in a location where the employer maintains at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius

As you can see, the country’s paternity leave policy is not up to par with its OECD counterparts. In fact, there’s no paternity leave policy to speak of but a generic law that may or may not allow new fathers the benefit of leaving work temporarily for the sake of taking care of their wives and newborns. 

Thankfully, some private organizations are taking the progressive route by establishing parental leave policies even if the state and federal governments do not mandate them. 

Noteworthy cases include Walmart with its six-week fully-paid parental leave for full-time employees, Facebook with its four-month paid leave for new parents, and Netflix with its paid parental leave that can last up to a year. Meanwhile, a few states are leading the way to enact policies that allow parental leaves for new dads. 


State and Paternity Leave Laws in the Country

Here are U.S. states with paternity leave policies in place. 

  • California – The paid leave legislation that took effect in 2004 allows up to eight weeks of paid family leave. This time off work should be devoted to caring for a newborn, an adopted or fostered child, or a family member with a serious medical condition. Monetary benefits range between 60% and 70% of a workers’ weekly salary. The weekly cap is at $1,252.
  • New York – The state’s paid family leave law was established in 2018. New dads can get as much as 67% of New York State’s average weekly wage each week for up to 12 weeks. This time off work should be used for caring for a newborn, adopted or fostered child, and a family member with a serious health condition.
  • Rhode Island – The state’s paid four-week family leave was established in 2014. The same rules from the previously mentioned states apply. The maximum weekly benefit is $852. 
  • New Jersey – The state offers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, a law that took effect in 2009. A new dad on leave can get 85% of his average weekly wage. The recognized reasons for family leave are the same as those of New York and California. However, New Jersey has expanded its definition of a family member from a child, spouse, parent, and domestic partner to include civil union partner, sibling, in-laws, grandchild, grandparent, and other blood relations.
  • Washington State – The state’s paid family leave only took effect in 2020, which provides 12 weeks off work to new dads. They take home 90% of their weekly salary.
  • Washington DC – Parents have up to eight weeks of paid and job-protected parental leave. They can receive up to 90% of their regular wages. 


Daddies, Unite!

If you are an expecting father, you need to learn about paternity leave in the U.S. so that you know your rights and benefit from what’s rightfully yours. 

You deserve to spend ample time with your newborn during one of the most critical stages of their life. And you’re also responsible for looking after the welfare of your wife, who recently went through one of the most beautiful and glorious experiences life has to offer—childbirth. 

Your employer may downplay the benefits that are given to you by the law as a new father. So, if you live in a state that provides fathers with the right to paternity leave, it’s time to stand up for your right. You may consult with an employment lawyer from Shegerian & Associates for legal assistance if need be. Contact us now and let us help you settle legal matters you have in the workplace.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.