Paternity leave is leave granted to the partner of a pregnant person, surrogate parent, or parent matched with a child through an adoption or fostering agency. Paternity leave supports employees in bonding with their new baby or child. To qualify, it must be taken within the first year of the child’s birth, fostering, or adoption.

Paternity leave is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-secured leave. Job-secured leave means that employees legally cannot be disciplined, fired, or otherwise disadvantaged for taking this unpaid leave. 

Which States Offer Paid Paternity Leave?

While paternity leave is unpaid in most of the United States, there are nine states that currently or will imminently offer paid paternity leave:

  • California: Under California’s Paid Family Leave program, employees are eligible for 60-70% of their average weekly salary for up to eight consecutive weeks. An employee’s average weekly salary is calculated based on their average earnings between five and 18 months before the first day of paternity leave. 
  • Colorado: From January 1, 2023, Colorado will be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Insurance policy, allowing up to 12 weeks of leave with a maximum of 90% of an employee’s average pay. Parents may be eligible for an additional four weeks of leave if there is a pregnancy or childbirth-related complication, such as premature birth.
  • Connecticut: Connecticut offers 12 weeks of paid leave within 12 months of birth or placement of the child.
  • Massachusetts: Employees are eligible for a minimum of eight weeks of paid or unpaid leave per child. For example, if an employee’s partner gave birth to or adopted twins, that employee would be eligible for 16 weeks of paternity leave. In addition, employees may be eligible for Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave, in which employees may apply for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave. The 12 weeks is not increased for multiple births.
  • New Jersey: New Jersey allows up to 6 weeks of paid leave within 12 months of the birth or placement of a child. Employees will receive 66% of their average weekly salary, up to a maximum of $637. 
  • New York: New York offers 67% of employees’ pay for up to 12 weeks. 
  • Oregon: Oregon allows up to 12 weeks of paid leave, as long as your organization employs more than 25 employees.
  • Rhode Island: Employees are eligible for up to 13 consecutive weeks of paid paternity leave within two years if the employee has at least one year’s service. 
  • Washington DC: Washington DC offers up to 12 weeks of paid paternity leave.
  • Washington State: Under the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave program,  employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave.

Federal employees are also eligible for paid paternity leave under the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), regardless of their home state. Under FEPLA, employees receive 12 weeks of paid paternity leave. However, they must agree to return to work for a further 12 weeks once the paternity leave concludes. 

Why Paid Paternity Leave Is Important

While you have no legal obligation to offer paid paternity leave to your employees, it can have several benefits:

Improved employee retention

Paid parental leave is an overlooked benefit that helps reduce employee turnover. Research shows that supporting employees at each stage of their lives dramatically affects employee retention. Furthermore, the average cost of replacing an employee is estimated as being 33% of an employee’s annual salary. The cost of improved employee benefits can therefore be seen as an investment that decreases overall recruitment costs. 

Promotes equality

43% of new mothers leave the workforce for an extended period of time after giving birth.  This trend reduces gender diversity within organizations and may contribute to an increased gender pay gap. 

However, studies have shown that a woman’s earnings rise by 6.7% for every month of paternity leave her husband takes. Therefore, supporting your female employees by providing paid paternity leave will increase the number of mothers returning to the organization and promote a more diverse and inclusive workforce. 

Increased engagement

Supporting employees in finding a healthy balance between work and family life will increase employee engagement. Furthermore, studies suggest that increasing employee paternity leave will improve employees’ relationships with their line managers. Research in Australia found that 70% of companies offering paid family leave reported increased employee productivity.  

Writing a Paternity Leave Policy

You should write a clear and robust policy to support your employees in taking paternity leave. This will help employees understand their eligibility for paternity leave and their obligations regarding returning to work. 

When writing your policy, consider what would most benefit your employees, and balance that with what your business needs. Your paternity policy will also be relevant to the type of culture you are trying to build and your strategies for talent attraction. For example, a Deloitte study found that 77% of potential employees were likely to be swayed by an enhanced parental leave package.

Below are some examples of possible paternity leave policies you may wish to adopt:

Traditional FMLA

Many paternity leave policies adhere to FMLA guidelines allowing up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. To qualify for FMLA paternity leave, an employee must have worked more than 1,250 hours within the 12 months preceding the leave (24 hours per week), and the company they work for must have more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. The employee cannot be pregnant and must be the spouse or live-in partner of the pregnant person or have parental responsibility for the child.

100% pay

A 100% pay paternity policy would be a wise strategy for companies trying to strengthen their benefits package. 

Your policy should set an upper limit for the amount of paid time an employee is eligible for within any given period. For example, an employee might be able to take up to four weeks of paid paternity leave within a rolling 12-month period. Any time after this would be unpaid. 

The amount of leave you allow employees to take can be in line with FMLA allowances or separate. For example, your employee is eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA. However, you may allow them to take four weeks of fully paid leave to bond with their baby. They would still be eligible for eight weeks of unpaid leave after the four weeks of paid leave are finished under FMLA.

Graded pay

A graded pay policy rewards loyalty and is based on employee tenure. It is up to you how you choose to break down the grades. Here is an example:

  • Less than one year’s service: 50% pay
  • 1-5 years of service: 75% pay
  • Greater than five years of service: 100% pay

As with the 100% pay policy, you should set an upper limit to the amount of time employees can take in one period. Employees should also be able to use this policy in conjunction with the FMLA policy. 

Flexible arrangements

This policy allows employees to ‘flex’ their work hours to achieve a minimum, agreed-upon number of working hours per week to support them in structuring their new home–work routine. For example, if your office hours are between 9am and 5pm, but your employee is up early with their new baby, you might allow them to come into the office at 7am and leave at 3pm. You should discuss with your employee whether this is a suitable option. A flexible arrangement scheme can be used in conjunction with any of the above policies to support your team. 

Taking Paternity Leave

Once you’ve written and distributed your policy, you must be prepared to discuss the practicalities of paternity leave with your employees.

The process of taking paternity leave will be slightly different for each employee. However, the following is a possible set of guidelines: 

Talk to the employee

The employee should inform you that they plan on taking paternity leave at least 30 days before the child’s due date or placement date. Offer your sincere congratulations and ask their permission to share this news with those concerned within the business. 

Talk to your employee about their FMLA paternity leave eligibility, workplace benefits, and what their pay will look like. You should also discuss how long they intend to take off work, upcoming projects that you will need to reassign, and what you can do to support them in this transition. 

Inform those concerned

Once you’ve gained their permission to share their news, you should inform anyone that will be impacted. This may include their line manager, teammates, or project leaders.

Plan for their leave

Once you’ve informed the relevant people, you can begin to redistribute the employee’s work between team members. This should be the line manager’s responsibility. However, they may need some HR support if they’re new to the business or if the employee on leave worked across several business functions. For example, payroll projects tend to work with both HR and finance departments. You’re also advised to plan for a re-introduction period of lighter duties for when the employee returns.

Creating a contingency plan will not only support the business in adjusting to this period of leave but will help the employee feel secure and supported in their return to work. 

Communicate

Maintain communication with the employee while they are on paternity leave. Ask that the employee sends you an email or message when the baby has arrived. Once they let you know, consider sending the new parents a handwritten card and a small gift, such as a bunch of flowers, a gift card to a retailer, or a babygrow. 

When paternity leave is nearing its end, you should reach out to your employee to check how they’re doing. Discuss what plans you have in place for their return and ask whether they have any questions about their first day. 

Their first few days back should include a schedule of lighter duties and a run-down of what they may have missed. It’s a nice gesture to plan for an extended lunch break one day so they can video-call home, or you may consider allowing a phased return with an early finish.

Conclusion 

Taking paternity leave is an exciting time for your employee. Getting the process right is vital to make the transition into their next chapter as smooth as possible.

Start with a robust paternity leave policy, and follow that up with solid communication. Plan for your employee’s leave, keep them informed at each stage of the process, and welcome them back when they’re ready to return. 

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