I am the father of three: two daughters, twelve and eight, and a five-year-old boy.
I do not slight my law firm or clients when I say there is no role more important or fulfilling to me than raising those amazing kids. Being able to be the best father I can be and also provide the highest quality of legal service and care to my clients has required a great level of determination, flexibility, juggling of time and schedules and support from my family.
Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to work in environments that afforded me the flexibility to play a meaningful role in my kids' lives. Whether that meant occasionally arriving late to work to attend an orchestra concert or leaving early to coach basketball, I am blessed to watch my kids grow in such a hands-on, personal way. And I am determined to continue doing so.
One thing I have not done, however, even as a very junior lawyer, is take a parental leave. I cannot help but wonder whether, to some degree, this was because I viewed parental leave as something fathers simply didn't do.
Over the years, fathers have often gotten a bad rap. I remember as a kid my father writing to the New York Times and the publishers of the Berenstain Bears books to excoriate them for their depiction of fathers as bumbling fools who could never get it right and always needed their wives to rescue them. Times have changed, however, and research abounds on the importance of fathers in the development of children, in particular our daughters.
Now, with all the well-deserved scrutiny surrounding the #MeToo movement, one other very important societal and workplace trend has emerged: the rise of engaged fathers.
Parental Leave: Numbers and Trends
According to the American Journal of Public Health, from 1994 to 2015, the number of men on paternity leave in any given month increased by a factor of three, while maternity leave rates showed no trend over these years.
Anecdotally, in recent years, high-profile industry leaders have become increasingly vocal about the importance of all parents (including fathers) taking parental leave, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg taking two months of parental leave after the birth of his first daughter in 2015 and recently announcing his intention to take parental leave in multiple parts following the August 2017 birth of his second daughter.
The Law and Parental Leave
Most broadly, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), if your company is a "covered employer" (e.g., has over 50 employees) it must provide 12 weeks of job protected leave after the birth or adoption of a child for a "covered employee" (e.g., employees who have worked for your company for at least 12 months). Many states and cities have similar leave laws.
While the FMLA does not require paid leave generally, if your business offers paid maternity leave, it must also offer paid paternity leave (however, if the paid portion of the leave is purely for the birth of the child or incapacitation due to pregnancy, your company may be able offer it to females alone). While some states, such as New York, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island offer paid parental leave for all parents (administered by the state and funded through employee payroll deductions), the majority do not.
What the Rise of Parental Leave Means for Your Company
Be mindful that, as the next generation of employees emerge, it is likely all new parents will crave the type of work-life balance allowing meaningful time with their kids.
While parental leaves no doubt create short-term operational hurdles, providing new parents with the ability to enjoy meaningful parenting moments (at least for those who want it!) will result not only in less legal risk, but also in fulfilled and well-rounded employees -- employees who will remain loyal to you and be good to your customers and clients.
Also, as employers, you should strive to root out and avoid stereotypes. I am, of course, cognizant many new parents will not crave the type of work-life balance I describe in this article. Indeed, there are some mornings when I cannot wait to leave the bedlam of my house for the (I guess relative?) calm of my office. But new fathers (like all new parents) should not be made to feel as if spending more time with their kids makes them less of an employee; or worse (from a practical and legal standpoint) less of a "man."
In addition, employers should be mindful of the unique dynamics that same-sex couples and transgender individuals face when entering the parenting world. Your workforce increasingly lives outside the once-traditional construct of a woman at home and a man at the office. While there is nothing wrong with this traditional construct, be cognizant of these changing dynamics. And embrace them.
This article does not constitute legal advice. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, company, or individual.