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Oct 18, 2019

Over the past few years, the role of paternity leave policies in supporting work-life balance has been greatly debated all over the world.

In this article, I’ll discuss whether the current paternity leave policies in the US support work-life balance. Also, I’ll offer some ideas for HR teams to develop paternity policies to help new fathers.

Paternity leave policies in the US

Over the past three decades, the role of fathers in the office and in the home has transformed radically. In a typical American family, both parents now work full-time. Moreover, the manner in which fathers participate in a child’s upbringing and development has also changed. However, in the US workplace, paternity benefits haven’t evolved – if they exist at all — to reflect these dynamics.

Although equal salary, work leave and other benefits have been increasing for working mothers in the US, there’s still an evident lack of paternity leave options available for fathers. American fathers usually take a shorter leave from work post-birth. According to a 2014 report from Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, nearly 76% of fathers take just one week off (or even less) after the birth or adoption of a child; 96% rejoin work after two weeks.

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found wide public support for paid family and medical leave. However, comparatively a small number of employees have access to paid leave, and this access differs significantly by industry and by the type and size of the company.

As per the National Compensation Survey conducted every year by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 16% of private sector employees had access to paid family leave in 2018, which was only 3 percentage points greater than in 2016. 88% could access unpaid family leave, which includes maternity and paternity leave.

In the US, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the only federal legislation assuring leave to care for a new baby, newly-adopted child or an unwell family member. This includes 12 weeks of unpaid, job-secured leave from work for both mothers and fathers. And even though about 100 million workers are covered by the FMLA, 40% aren’t. This is because the law is applicable only to those working in an organization with at least 50 workers who’ve worked for at least one year and worked a minimum of 1,250 hours.

Benefits recruiting, retention

Despite widespread support for family leave bills in the country, only a few states and cities have approved family leave and paternity leave regulations. As of 2016, Pew research identified the US as alone among 41 nations – including most of Europe — for having no national parental leave law.

This lack of national paternal leave presents a recruiting and retention opportunity for companies that do provide paid leave to new fathers.

According to a Deloitte survey, 77% of workers believe the amount of paid parental leave had some impact on their choice of employer. 50% reported they’d rather have more parental leave than a salary increment.

Businesses that implement parental leave policies and flexible work possibilities for parents have greater employee engagement and retention. Thus, if your company wishes to retain its talent, policies that take into consideration work-life balance are crucial to the end result.

How employers can help

When it comes to formulating an attractive and fair paternity leave, HR should consider:

  • State and local family leave rules — Besides the 12 unpaid weeks the FMLA provides, some states and a few cities in the US have parental leave requirements. Understand these rules and communicate them to your employees, making a special effort to point out they apply to fathers as well as mothers.
  • Document a formal paternity leave policy – Even if no law (other than the FMLA) obligates you to provide time off for new fathers, offer it. And consider making it fully or partially paid.  Doing so can greatly boost your employee engagement and will help attract and retain talent.
  • Offer flexibility in scheduling — By offering flexible work options – something surveys tell us most workers want –- you can help your new parents adjust to their new responsibilities.
  • Babies at work — Want to take your paternity leave policy one step ahead? Consider allowing workers to bring their baby to work. Just as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) necessitates corporations to offer break time to nursing mothers and a private spot to express breast milk, fathers should also have some sort of accommodation to bring in their babies.

Final words

The modern day workplace is experiencing a shift as companies scramble to compete for talent and recognize the importance of providing a work/life balance. While so much of the focus has traditionally been on the new mother, companies are increasingly recognizing that fathers, too, need to be accommodated.

Offering a fair and attractive paid paternity leave not only eases the financial impact on new parents, but it also reduces the stress of balancing career, home and family.

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