At one time, there was a clear division of labor regarding childcare. Mom took care of the children during the day, and Dad saw them when he came home. As women entered the workforce, it became necessary to allow them time off for childbirth, although it was often difficult for them to arrange more than a few days. Fathers still didn’t take time off for childcare, and those that wanted to were often viewed as uncommitted to their careers.
Views have slowly changed, and the importance of hands-on fathers in children’s lives has become clear. Today, many new fathers like to take time off work to help with childcare, and both men and women have the right, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill child. It does not matter if the child is the employee’s biological child, an adopted child or a foster child.
Because gender discrimination is illegal, the terms maternity and paternity leave are becoming less common, and leave taken by either parent is called parental leave.
Paternity/Parental Leave Under FMLA
Employers are required to grant fathers the same parental leave rights as mothers: up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period. However, if both parents work for the same company, the employer is allowed to limit their combined leave to 12 weeks.
Companies are also allowed to:
- Require a father use up paid leave before taking FMLA leave
- Count paid leave time towards the 12 week total, although some state laws do not allow this
Paternity leave under FMLA is subject to all the same requirements of any FMLA leave, including continuing the father’s benefits and returning him to the same or equivalent position after the leave.
Since the addition of a child to the family is an anticipated event, you should request leave at least 30 days in advance. As long as you are eligible for FMLA leave, your employer cannot deny your request. You may file a complaint with the US Department of Labor if your employer refuses to allow your leave.
Other Parental Leave FMLA only covers certain employers and employees who have worked a minimum amount of time for their employer. However, even if you are not eligible under FMLA, some state laws offer more generous benefits that may apply to you.
In addition, many companies now recognize the importance of fathers taking time for their children and may offer some parental leave. You can certainly ask.
Some companies even offer paid parental leave, although it is not common. California state law grants paid parental leave, and a few other states have considered it, but for the most part the law only covers unpaid leave.
If you would like to take parental leave, ask your human resources department about their policy, investigate your eligibility under FMLA or your state’s laws and, if you are still not sure, talk to an employment law attorney.