Recently I had a conversation with my father about his options for parental leave when I was born (1979). As a new father myself, I was curious what leave options were open to baby-boomer Dads. My father told me that it was fairly standard to take a day or two off after the birth of a child and to then return to the office, with cigars and tired eyes.
While attitudes and policies towards paid leave for fathers have changed since 1979, paid parental leave for fathers is still relatively rare in the United States. This post will briefly examine the issue of paid parental leave for fathers and address some of the practical and legal principles that a company considering paid parental leave should take under consideration.
Paid Parental Leave for Fathers is the Exception in the United States
Allowing fathers paid parental leave is the progressive exception to the norm in the United States. An NPR article this summer explained that merely 10-15% of U.S. employers provide paid parental leave for fathers, despite the fact that many new dads would welcome this benefit. A few U.S. states, like California, offer some paid parental leave for fathers, but these states remain the outliers in the union.
Paid leave for fathers is much more common in other developed countries. Many European countries offer paid parental leave for fathers and more and more European fathers are taking advantage of these benefits. Sweden, for example, offers up to 40 weeks paid leave and according to the Economist, close to 90% of Swedish men take paternity leave.
Some Guiding Principles for Companies Considering Paid Leave
Legal Considerations: though state-by-state leave nuances are a discussion for another time, on a federal level and as we discussed previously, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines this summer on pregnancy in the workplace and related issues. Buried within these guidelines are key provisions related to parental leave for fathers, “for purposes of determining Title VII’s requirements, employers should carefully distinguish between leave related to any physical limitations imposed by pregnancy or childbirth . . . and leave for purposes of bonding with a child and/or providing care for a child.” Thus if a company chooses to provide paid leave to female employees for bonding or caring with a newborn, as opposed to leave linked to conditions particular to women (like pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions), it must provide corresponding paid leave to men or the policy might run afoul of federal anti-discrimination laws. The logic behind these EEOC guidelines is clear—new fathers have just as much stake in bonding with their new child as new mothers.
Practical Considerations: without a doubt, there are costs associated with offering paid parental leave for fathers —lost productivity, the need to transition projects and the monetary expense of paying employees while they are not working. These costs should be considered in tandem with the many benefits such policies effectuate for the company and employees alike, including:
These policies foster gender equality, a goal most if not all institutions include in value or mission statements.
Paid parental leave boosts employee morale and invests employees in the mission of their employer
Paid parental leave policies make vast contributions to the work/life balance of employees, while sending a signal that companies value not just their employees, but their employees’ families as well
Finally, because paid parental leave is so exceptional, these policies provide a compelling recruitment tool to entice new employees
Perhaps in thirty years, I will be explaining to my own son that the landscape for parental leave for fathers in the United States has changed considerably since his birth – a conversation I look forward to having.