Parental Leave

The Rules of Paternity Leave

the-rules-of-paternity-leaveAs a male worker, you may take time off work if the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers your employer and if you are eligible for the time off. This kind of leave is sometimes referred to as “paternity leave.” According to a survey by, about 60 percent of new fathers take advantage of the FMLA’s paternity leave benefit.  If you are eligible for paternity leave, then your employer must allow you take up to 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period. Note that this is unpaid leave and must be taken within a year of your child’s birth. This also applies if you have adopted a child; you may take the same amount of time within one year of the child being placed with you. Any employer that offers maternity leave must make paternity leave available to their male employees as well or they will be liable for sex discrimination.

Who is Eligible for Paternity Leave?
If you work for a company with fewer than 50 employees, you are automatically ineligible for paternity leave under federal law. Also ineligible are workers whose time at work totals under 1,250 hours or who have been employed for less than one year. Eligible workers include state, local and federal employees. If both you and your spouse work for the same employer, you should note that the mandated 12-week leave will be split between the two of you.

New Jersey, California and Washington state are the only states with laws that provide paid paternity leave. If you live in California, you may collect up to 55 percent of your salary for no longer than six weeks; in New Jersey you may collect 66 percent over six weeks and in Washington state, you get $250 for up to five weeks.

Why Some Men Avoid Taking Paternity Leave
Many of those who fail to take their paternity leave cite their fear of repercussions from their employer as the reason why. Some workplace cultures may attach a stigma to men who take time off to help care for a newborn; these men may be seen as being less than committed to their jobs. Another reason is that you may not get your old job when you get back from your FMLA leave. Yes, the law does mandate that employers provide you with work under the same conditions as your old job (meaning, the same salary and benefits) but they do not have to return you to the same position.

Some employers offer other benefits that go beyond the FMLA paternity leave, including paid paternity leave. Note that they are under no legal obligation to provide you with this paid time off. If your employer does not provide paid leave, you may be able to substitute vacation days for a part of your FMLA leave. For more detailed information on your paternity leave rights, consult the Department of Labor’s website or talk to a lawyer who specializes in FMLA law.