We recently had a conversation in the office around paternity leave. What laws or employee policies give men the right to take paternity leave? It seems paternity leave laws are not wide-spread. California became the first state in 2004 to offer partial pay for paternity leave. A few other states have followed suit, but for the vast majority of fathers, they’re left to rely on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to authorize their time. FMLA requires that eligible companies give eligible employees up to 12 weeks unpaid for the birth or adoption of a child. For smaller employers, less than 50 employees, or employees who haven’t been at the company for a year, they may not even be eligible for this unpaid leave. In many states, these fathers have no recourse.
There are some states with pending legislation that would give father’s more rights in terms of time off and paid time off. Currently there is pending legislation for paid leave inMassachusetts,New Jersey,New YorkandWashingtonstate.
At the same time, where state laws do exist, there is some confusion around their implementation with respect to women and men. For example, in Massachusetts, the Mass Maternity Leave Law (MMLL) uses the word “she” in the text, implying that men would not be eligible. However, the Mass Commission on Discrimination has stated that they would consider it discriminatory if a man were not allowed to take the eight weeks unpaid that a woman is eligible for.
While this debate continues and states work to develop legislation to protect and guide the rights of father, employers should be aware of the legal issues surrounding paternity leave. First, employers should check their state requirements to ensure legal compliance. Barring any state guidance, companies should develop a policy that is paternity specific. Having a paternity policy would eliminate the threat of discrimination by implementing leave consistently. As companies develop their policies, think about the company philosophy on work/life balance as well as the feasibility of giving time.