Paternity leave—either paid or unpaid—isn’t talked about nearly as often as maternity leave, but perhaps it should be. After all, the two go hand in hand. It can even be argued that it is a matter of equality—all parents should be able to have the option to take time off after the birth or adoption of a new family member. To allow maternity but not paternity leave can be construed as a form of discrimination based on gender.
Also, paternity leave is making the news lately, with Richard Branson announcing that some of the employees at Virgin will be eligible for up to a year of paid paternity leave. However, the reason it makes the news when a company decides to offer such a generous paternity leave benefit is because, like maternity leave in the United States, there is no federal regulation mandating that employers offer it. The only somewhat relevant regulation at the federal level is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but leave under FMLA is limited to no more than 12 weeks and is unpaid. And if both parents work in the same organization, that time off can be limited to a combined 12 weeks rather than 12 weeks each.
As such, maternity and paternity leave are both viewed as voluntary benefits that are offered by some, but not all, employers. In turn, the amount of leave offered varies significantly, from none to only a few days to as much as a year in the case of employees at Virgin. Some states do offer paid parental or other family leave options over and above what the FMLA provides.
Benefits to Offering Paternity Leave
Employers often have to weigh the pros and cons whenever considering a change or addition to employee benefits. Here are some of the many pros—both benefits to employers and general societal benefits—of offering paternity leave on a broad scale.
- Such a policy promotes gender equality, in and out of the workplace.
- It supports both parents, allowing more families to become or remain dual-income families. This, in turn, keeps more parents—both men and women—in the workforce, which increases productivity and helps the economy as a whole.
- This leave policy can make it easier for parents to start a family, which is important for future generations.
- Paternity leave also helps to offset what is known as the “motherhood penalty,” in which mothers who take family leave or temporarily leave the workforce typically have a much lower lifetime salary as a result—a salary much less than is accounted for by just the time away from work. Paternity leave can help to equalize or remove this situation in the workplace.
- Such policies can result in less turnover overall because (1) employees value this benefit and (2) employees can feel secure in taking leave and then returning to their job—and are less likely to consider quitting.
- A paternity leave benefit can be used as a recruitment and retention tool.
Is paternity leave something your organization provides? Or is it under consideration? This is a topic that will continue to be discussed, especially as long as maternity leave remains a hot topic as well.
This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.
About Bridget Miller:
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.