By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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How long is paternity leave in California for fathers?

US and State with Paternity Leave

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), new parents may have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. However, the FMLA applies to companies with fifty or more employees and the father-worker must be employed for a minimum of twelve months with 1250 hours worked.

In the US, nine states has paternity leave law. These states are:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Washington D.C.
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington

Why is Paternity Leave Important?

What if increased paternity leave improved home lives and work productivity? What if this concept created a better work-life balance for fathers and made them feel more positive about their employers and their jobs?

The United States would not be the first country to expand access to paternity leave. More countries and more companies are offering the benefit to new fathers. According to a 2019 Promundo report, ninety countries worldwide offer paid paternity leave to new fathers. Companies in the U.S. and other countries also offer “parental bonding leave” and “secondary caregiver leave” (aimed at LGBTQ+ and adoptive parents). However, few fathers are taking paternity leave even when offered it, perhaps for fear of what a relatively new benefit could mean for their careers.

  • Example: Gavin and Sam have just adopted an infant son together. Both would like to be present for their newborn child but are hesitant about taking parental leave. They worry that if they ask for time off, their employers will think they are not motivated, and their careers will suffer. Several weeks off could have a devastating impact on all they’ve worked so hard for. But, at the same time, what is more important that caring for one’s child?

Fatigue and mental health crises have spurred businesses to think about ways to improve employee well-being and morale, especially for working parents. Paternity leave was viewed as a way to make a positive impact on working families, in particular fathers.

One way in which paternity leave improved the lives of working fathers and families was its ability to strengthen relationships. Fathers who took paternity leave noticed a stringer bond with their significant other. Their partners also felt an increase in support, which is often so necessary when taking care of young children. With the father at home, it was easier to divide household tasks and child-rearing. There was also an increase in emotional support, especially when a couple had the task of taking care of an infant or newborn.

  • Example: Heather and Matty have just welcomed a daughter, Zoe. With their first child, Lia, Heather was stuck at home all by herself caring for the baby. She would be doing household chores, cooking dinner, handling appointments, and taking care of the child all on her own. This time around, Matty has taken paternity leave to help his wife by dividing responsibilities. He and Heather trade off taking care of the children and doing household tasks. This eases the burden on Heather and decreases the couple’s overall stress.

Research indicates that paternity leave is associated with higher levels of relationship stability. Fathers taking leave are generally more invested in their family life, and by taking some of the burden off mothers, thereby strengthen their partnerships.

There is also evidence that paternal leave can help improve maternal postpartum-depression outcomes. There is reason to believe that paternal absence can help predict the severity of postpartum symptoms. The presence of a father after the birth of a child can therefore benefit the health of the mother.

Paternal leave also helps shape and improve family dynamics. When parents spend time together after the birth of a child, they learn together about how to raise the child and what approach they should take as parents. When fathers take paternal leave, the foundation for a more equal division of responsibilities is also established. Parents can decide how to divide childcare responsibilities and domestic work, for example.

Paternal leave also allowed for fathers to create a lifelong bond with their child. Bonds formed this early in a child’s life last a lifetime. Where fathers have complained in the past about not “being there” for their kids enough, paternity leave presents an opportunity. By being present with their children, fathers learn to reprioritize what is important and learn how best to interact with their children. Fathers have more involvement with their child’s development and caretaking in these early months and years.

  • Example: By taking paternity leave, Igor already feels a lot closer to his infant son, Ivan. He is able to watch him pass important milestones and observe with wonder his development. Already he feels devoted to his son, and he understands the importance of his job in providing for young Ivan. He has a new sense of his goals and purpose in life, and feels refreshed and driven.

Paternity leave can also help working mothers who are overwhelmed. By staying at home to help their wives, fathers can reduce the workload and help their spouse care for the child. By helping out, a father can also help his wife maintain her career progression. Oftentimes, women have to put off their career goals to take care of children. Paternity leave can thereby level the playing field between genders.

  • Example: Lottie and Daniel have just welcomed their second child, a baby boy named Liam. Lottie is eager to get back to work because she has been making big strides in her career as a paralegal. Daniel decides to take paternity leave as a way of letting his wife advance her career while he looks after the children. He is happy to do so because he wants his wife to feel fulfilled and to succeed in her work life. He would also value the time spent with his children.

Fathers who take paternity leave also report an increase in happiness and satisfaction that can carry over into the workplace. By spending more time with their family, fathers come to work with more motivation and positive energy. Some men report feeling more energized with their work, and more aware of time management. Having a renewed sense of priorities, fathers can enact positive changes in their work lives. The break can be beneficial in a long-term way, as well. The break can provide a sense of perspective – people can remember what they like about their job and how important it is for their family and their personal happiness.

For the above reasons, employers should therefore consider providing new fathers paternity leave. This would include providing a longer paid-leave period, offering more flexibility in timing of the leave period, and increasing the level of financial support provided. Employers should also focus on creating a work culture that embraces paternity leave as a concept. It should be normalized and accepted to the point where men are not afraid to ask for it or take advantage of it when offered.

The culture surrounding paternity leave needs to change so that men are not afraid of taking it. Currently, many fathers worry that by taking paternity leave, they are sacrificing career advancement. Employers must be transparent about the impact that paternity leave will have on an individual at the very least. But overall, the culture needs to become more supportive of paternity leave, instead of reacting punitively toward it.

  • Example: When John takes paternity leave to care for his new infant son, Arthur, his coworkers react negatively. Many of them have children and never took time off. They view it as a point of pride. That, and they’re a little jealous. Even though John’s employer is supportive of his plan to take time off to care for his new baby, John is worried about the reputation this will give him in the workplace. He doesn’t want to be seen as weak or unmotivated, and he certainly doesn’t want to fall behind. John wishes that he didn’t feel like he is choosing between his career and his child.

After taking leave, employers should also ensure fathers can easily reintegrate into the workplace. At present, few enough fathers take paternity leave that employers haven’t developed the necessary support for reintegration. It would help to create policies and processes to help fathers transition back into the work environment after time off. This would ease the fear of falling behind in work or one’s career.

But being a parent does not end with paternity leave. Many fathers would like to stay actively involved in their children’s lives, even after they return to work from leave. It would be beneficial if employers introduced more flexible work arrangements that would allow employees to participate more in home and family life.

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