- Offering paternity leave is a good way to attract and retain employees.
- Only 9% of workplaces in the U.S. offer paid paternity leave to all male employees.
- Unlike other wealthy nations, the United States does not have comprehensive mandates for both maternal and paternal paid leave.
- This article is for small business owners and HR professionals who are considering a paid paternity leave policy.
As a small business owner, you have the opportunity to make a big difference in your employees' lives by allowing them to spend time with their family when they welcome a new child. While offering some form of leave for new mothers is fairly common, U.S. companies rarely offer the same benefit for new fathers. If you're thinking about offering paternity leave, it's important to understand existing laws regarding family leave, the pros and cons of offering paternity leave and how to develop a paternity leave policy.
What is paternity leave?
Paternity leave is paid or unpaid time off employers give to new dads. To help new mothers bond with their children after birth, many companies offer paid or unpaid maternity leave, but fewer employers offer paternity leave. In both cases, parental leave is offered after a child is born or adopted.
What separates paternity leave from maternity leave is that the latter generally covers all stages of pregnancy, whereas paternity leave typically allows for time off only after the child is born or adopted. In the case of same-sex couples, this type of leave is known as spousal leave.
Key takeaway: Paternity leave is an allotted time away from work for new dads.
Are Americans entitled to paternity leave?
The short answer is no. Just five states require paid family leave, including paternity and maternity leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
The paid time off for new parents is paid for through various payroll taxes, with resulting wage-replacement rates of between 50% and 90% for four to 12 weeks.
While some states are working to enact paid family leave for both mothers and fathers, the federal government has its own form of mandated family leave, known as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). Under the law, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for certain personal and familial needs. Though the law does not guarantee paid leave, it does protect employees from being fired for being absent from work for an extended period of time.
Who qualifies for FMLA?
Not all U.S. employers are bound by FMLA. Notably, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to offer family leave. FMLA applies only to employers that meet the following criteria:
- Private-sector employers with 50 or more employees who work 20 or more weeks in the current or previous calendar year
- Local, state and federal government agencies
- Public or private elementary or secondary schools
In addition, to quality for FMLA, employees must meet the following criteria:
- Work for an employer that meets the above criteria
- Have worked for the employer for at least12 months in total
- Have worked for the employer for at least1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to taking leave
- Work at a location where the employer has at least50 employees within 75 miles
FMLA applies to the following scenarios:
- A new child is born in the employee's household
- The employee has a serious health condition
- A spouse, child or parent is dealing with a serious health condition
- Time off is needed to handle qualifying needs of a child, spouse or parent in the military
Key takeaway: There is no U.S. federal law requiring all employers to offer paid time off. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates some employers to offer unpaid time off for family leave to certain employees.
Which countries offer paid paternity leave by default?
Most countries offer some form of paid family leave. In fact, of the 41 richest countries, all but one – the United States – offer up to eight weeks of paid leave to new moms. Fathers receive a similar benefit in 32 of those countries, and the United States is the only one that does not offer paid leave to both mothers and fathers.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average amount of paid leave for a new dad is approximately 8.1 weeks. Estonia offers the longest government-mandated paid parental leave: 86 weeks, according to the Pew Research Center.
Key takeaway: The vast majority of wealthy nations offer paid paternity leave; the U.S. is an exception.
What are the pros and cons of offering paid paternity leave?
It should be no surprise that offering a good set of employee benefits is a great way to attract employees and keep them in the long term. Paternity leave is one such benefit that has gained traction in recent years. And while it may seem like a costly measure for small businesses, the positives could outweigh the negatives.
According to the National Partnership of Women and Families, the amount of time fathers have spent caring for their children has tripled since 1965. Yet, a study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family found that just "one in 20 fathers in professional jobs took more than two weeks off after their most recent child was born – and a staggering three out of four took one week or less."
Benefits of offering paternity leave
Lessens the stigma. Although many companies and employees increasingly recognize the role fathers play in bonding with and raising a child, it still carries a stigma for men to take time off to tend to a child's needs.
Although the stigma is becoming less prominent, "discrimination against men who take paternity leave is still present in many cases," said Rhiannon Staples, an HR expert and chief marketing officer of Hibob. "Combatting this is still a challenge for many fathers and may deter them from taking advantage of this benefit even when it is available."
When you have a paternity leave policy, new dads know that their employer supports their time off.
"Offering paternity leave is becoming more and more popular amongst organizations," Staples said. "In the new age of work we're currently living in, businesses and HR teams should not only offer paternity leave plans but also encourage working fathers to take this time off without fear of reprimand."
Attracts and retains workers. Benefits packages factor highly into employees' decisions of where to work, and offering a perk such as paid paternity leave can help you attract and retain top talent. This is especially the case for younger workers, as research has shown that millennial and Gen Z workers care a lot about workplace perks. Offering paternity leave can also encourage people to stick around for the long term, thus mitigating the costs associated with attrition and hiring.
Downsides of offering paternity leave
Staffing shortages. The biggest negative of offering paternity leave is losing the person during that time. As a small business owner, you will likely have to rely on your other staff more to pick up the lost productivity for however long that new parent is gone.
Costs. If you're offering paid paternity leave, it's important to weigh the costs in possible lost productivity, because although you're still paying all or some of that employee's wages, the company's output may not be the same. However, if you're paying the employee while they're on leave, you've likely set up some way to pay for the perk, so costs should be minimal if you've taken the appropriate steps through your HR provider.
"There are no obvious downsides to offering paternity leave that would affect a business's bottom line or culture in a negative manner," Staples said. "In realizing this, it's so important that organizations adapt alongside modern businesses in offering this type of leave for all parents."
Key takeaway: The benefits of offering paternity leave include lessening the stigma of taking time off and attracting and retaining employees, and potential downsides include staffing shortages and costs.
How to develop a paternity leave policy
If you decide to offer paternity leave, keep these points in mind when drafting your policy:
Length of time away
How long your employees will be gone will have a direct impact on your small business's operation. Consider how long you're willing to go without that employee, and calculate the associated costs. At the same time, you want to be flexible, so consider offering this time off whether they want it before or after the child comes. Another good way of doing that is to allow employees to stagger the time throughout the year.
Transition back to work
Coming back from a long sabbatical and diving directly into work can be jarring. Since child rearing will bring many sleepless nights and a slew of new experiences, it will be hard for the new fathers on your staff to get back into the swing of things. As such, offering a transition program to employees who come back after paternity leave could be a huge boon. You can do this by allowing returning dads to work from home or part time until they adjust.
No matter what you choose, there will be a cost associated with paternity leave. Optimizely created a digital worksheet to help businesses estimate the cost of a paternity leave plan. Figure out how much you need to keep the business running, and plan accordingly.
Remember that your paternity leave policy is a living piece of your company. If you work to enact one now, you can always change it later to better fit your employees' needs. However, the policy "should ultimately be a universal part of a company's benefits plan," Staples said.
Although paternity leave may be considered a bonus right now, it may not be long before it is required or universally expected.
"Just like a mother should have time off of work to spend with her child, a father should have that same right," Staples said. "While paternity leave is currently considered a perk for many companies, as more modern companies incorporate the idea into their HR policies, it is the hope that it will become a mainstream practice for organizations across the globe."
Key takeaway: When developing a paternity leave policy, consider how much time off you plan to give employees, how you will help them reacclimate to the office when they return and what the associated costs will be.