When it comes to family leave, the focus is often on new moms. But, dads are also entitled to (unpaid) leave from work as a part of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Under the regulations, a mother can use 12 weeks of FMLA leave for the birth of a child, for prenatal care and incapacity related to pregnancy, and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. A father can use FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to care for his spouse who is incapacitated (due to pregnancy or child birth).
This is true even if the new father’s spouse also takes FMLA leave. There is one catch, however: not every employee is eligible. They must work for a covered employer, which includes:
- Private-sector employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year
- Local, state or federal public agencies, regardless of the number of employees
- Public or private elementary or secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees
They must also be eligible employees, meaning that they:
- Work for a covered employer
- Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and for at least 1,250 hours during that 12-month period
- Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius
Family Leave: How the US Stacks Up to Other Countries
The US is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t mandate paid family leave. And as a recent Pew Research Center survey noted, finding paid leave at US companies is a difficult task: “In 2016, 14% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave, according to the National Compensation Survey (NCS), conducted annually by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
The industries most likely to offer leave won’t surprise you. In short, high-paying jobs that require more education and in-demand skills are more likely to offer this perk. According to Pew:
In private industry, access to paid family leave is most common in the finance and insurance, information, and professional, scientific and technical services sectors. …By contrast, workers in the construction and leisure/hospitality sectors have among the lowest rates of access to paid family leave, according to the NCS — 5% and 6%, respectively.
How Paid Leave Helps Close the Gender Pay Gap
No matter how you slice the data, women earn less than men. The common misconception is that this is because women choose lower paying jobs or fewer working hours than men. But men’s earnings outpace women’s even when they work similar hours, in the same jobs and boast the same educational background.
The problem is partly systemic (lack of paid leave options) and partly cultural (unconscious bias skewing salary offers lower for women). It’s also self-perpetuating: when women earn less than men, women will be more likely to stay home to care for children or other family members.
Paid leave for both new moms and new dads can help close the gap. For example, Sweden offers 480 days of paid leave for new parents, which can be shared between partners. Crucially, however, 90 days are allocated to each parent. If one parent doesn’t take leave, the family loses the time altogether. As a result, close to 90 percent of Swedish fathers take paternity leave. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sweden has the fourth smallest gender pay gap in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.
Options for Paid Leave
Some companies in the tech industry, famous for their lavish perks, are adding paid family leave to their donuts and workplace gym offerings. Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix offer paid leave, ranging from a few months to a solid year.
Forbes has a rundown of many other companies across the country that offer generous paid leave packages. Still, this number is woefully small when you consider the size of the US workforce — and the fact that jobs in the tech industry aren’t for everyone. How can we better support workers across industries? By making paid family leave universal in the US.
Some states are taking it upon themselves to enact paid family leave legislation, to the benefit of all workers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only a few have taken that step so far:
Three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—currently provide for paid family leave. New York passed a paid family leave law on April 4, 2016, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2018. All four state programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and are administered through their respective disability programs.
Funding is indeed always a question. Washington state’s budget woes mean that their own legislation got put on ice … with no go-live date in sight.
“Washington state passed a paid family leave law in 2007, originally to take effect in October, 2009. However, subsequent legislation has indefinitely postponed the implementation of Washington’s paid family leave law until a funding mechanism is developed and funds are appropriated,” according to the NCSL.
Tell Us What You Think
Did you take paternity leave? Tell us your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.