Babies take up a lot of time, effort, and sleep. In a world where both men and women are often co-contributing to household income, many new parents choose to take family leave when a new child enters the household (whether through birth, adoption, or foster care). Yet, the United States is one of just a handful of countries that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Often, whether or not mothers can take maternity leave is up to the state or company, and many fathers assume that paternity leave, paid or unpaid, isn’t an option.
In reality, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does guarantee maternity and paternity leave of up to 12 weeks in a single year for many employees of companies, but there are some restrictions, and not everyone is guaranteed the 12 weeks of leave. The FMLA only guarantees the 12 weeks of leave to employees of public agencies or private agencies that employ at least 50 employees who work within 75 miles of the office location. Additionally, an employee must have worked for the public or private agency for at least 12 months prior to taking the leave, and they must have worked for at least 1,250 hours in that year. That translates to 25 hours per week for 50 weeks before those employees are eligible.
If you meet all of those eligibility requirements, then you are guaranteed the right to take up to 12 weeks of leave whether you are a father or a mother. The problem is that the leave you are guaranteed is not paid. Although you won’t necessarily be paid, if you received medical benefits under a group health insurance plan, you are guaranteed to continue to receive those benefits while you are on the family or medical leave. You are also guaranteed a job of equal pay and benefits upon your return from your leave, but you aren’t guaranteed the exact same job.
One important stipulation that you should pay attention to regarding family leave is the “key employee” stipulation under the FMLA. Under certain circumstances, a salaried, FMLA-eligible employee who is within the highest paid top 10% of all employees can be denied a job after taking the leave if the restoration of the employee will cause “substantial and grievous economic injury” to the company. It is important to note that this stipulation does not allow the employer to deny the employee leave, but it does mean that the employer does not have to hold a job open for that employee.
While the U.S. doesn’t guarantee employees paid family leave, many companies and states have adopted paid leave policies. Before assuming anything, talk to your employer about what the company’s policies are regarding paternity and maternity leave.