In 2009, New Jersey joined states that have legislated paid family leave. As of 2023 there are 11 states plus the District of Columbia, that offer paternity leave. Those other states are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. If a working father-to-be doesn't live in one of those states, is he out of luck regarding paternity leave? Maybe not.
A father who would like more family time with a newborn or adopted child can look to three main areas for help: federal law, state law, and his employer.
At the federal level
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides that federal, state, and local governments as well as employers with 50 or more employees must give workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. The employer also must allow the employee to return to the same or similar job with the same salary, benefits, working conditions, and seniority. In order to benefit from the FMLA, you must have worked with your employer for at least 12 months and 1250 hours the previous year.
One major exception is if you are in the top 10% of your company's wage earners and your absence could mean serious financial harm to your employer; in this case, your employer could deny your request and is not required to keep your job open for your return.
Also, if both parents work for the same employer, you have a combined total of 12 weeks of parental leave between you. It is important to note that the FMLA provides only unpaid leave; indeed the National Partnership for Women and Families estimates that only 18% of workers can even take advantage of the unpaid leave provided for in the FMLA.
Remember, though, that under the FMLA, you can also be a bit creative with how you use those 12 weeks—so long as your employer approves of course. You could, for example, try to arrange three or four-day workweeks instead of simply being away from work for an extended period of time. Note that you are required by law to give your employer 30 days' notice before you plan on taking leave, but it is probably better to provide even more notice to ensure a smooth transition before and after your time off.
At the state level
Another option to investigate on the state level is At-Home Infant Care (AHIC), which offers lower-income parents a monthly stipend instead of returning to work or returning to work with the help of a state child care subsidy (eligibility requirements vary widely). The program started in Minnesota and versions have also been tried in New Mexico and Montana.
Even if there is no policy or precedent at your workplace, you can also consider presenting an individualized proposal to your employer for time off and/or cutting back your hours.
For example, you may think about offering to work overtime before the new child arrives in exchange for fewer regular working hours later or suggest telecommuting if it's feasible in your industry.
Not sure if you even want to ask for time off? In addition to providing more bonding time with your new child and strengthening family relationships, your leave from work could also have positive effects on the child's health. According to MomsRising, an organization dedicated to building a "more family-friendly America," paid family leave can reduce infant mortality rates by as much as 20%.
Moreover, Progressive States Network, a grass-roots organization that encourages political progress at the state level, notes that when parents must return to work too quickly after the arrival of a new child, newborns are less likely to receive medical checkups, immunizations, or be breastfed, all of which can lead to serious long-term health problems.
If you are interested in learning more about paternity or family leave, in addition to the links provided throughout the article, you can also find more information at the websites of the United States Department of Labor and Families and Work Institute.
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