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What is paternity leave? FAQs by dads, answered

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6 mins

Much to the delight of new moms and babies, new dads are becoming increasingly involved in their newborns' lives, with nine out of ten American dads taking some time off following the birth or adoption of a child. And it’s benefitting the dads as much as it is anyone else.

In addition to learning new parenting skills like diaper changing and feeding their latest addition, dads who take time off at birth not only develop a stronger emotional bond with the newborn, they enjoy lower stress levels and better relationships with their partners.

In this article, we’ll be helping fathers know the essentials of paternity leave in the U.S.: what it is, how much they’re entitled to, when they can take it, what their employer’s responsibilities are, and more.

Paternity leave definition

Paternity leave is the period of time when a father stops working because he is about to have a baby or has just adopted one. This is sometimes called “parental leave” or “family leave” because it applies to new mothers, fathers, and domestic partners. Not all employers have an official paternity leave policy, and paternity leave can be paid or unpaid, though it’s rare in the U.S for dads to receive paid time off after the birth of their new child.

How long is paternity leave?

Though most American fathers aren’t paid when they take time off after the baby’s born, they, like all new parents regardless of gender, are protected by the federal law known as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which secures their job for up to 12 weeks after birth or adoption. Dads are entitled to return to their jobs without being penalized by a reduction in pay or a change in their position.

FMLA doesn’t guarantee any pay during the twelve-week leave, and it doesn’t apply to everyone. To be granted leave per FMLA, you must work at an employer with over 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace and have worked there for a minimum of 1,250 hours during the prior year.

Paternity leave laws by state

There are twenty-five states that have supplemented FMLA protection by either lowering the minimum employer size to below fifty employees, providing longer leave (for example, up to sixteen weeks), or requiring private employers to pay for paternity leave or maternity leave up to a capped amount.

As of 2020, there are only a handful of states that require paid paternity leave:

  • New York
  • California
  • Washington state
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington, D.C.

What is your company’s paternity leave policy?

Going to your Human Resources Department or benefits administrator is the best way to determine your company’s policy and whether you qualify on a paid or unpaid basis. If you have an employee handbook, it may be contained there as well.

Though there may be a written policy concerning leave at your company, you may be able to negotiate for more time or some pay during your leave of absence, particularly if you plan to continue working full or part-time for that employer.

Will you receive benefits while you’re on paternity leave?

If your company offers fully-paid paternity leave, the chances are very high that they’ll also cover your other full-time benefits while you’re out.

Under FMLA, your company must continue to keep you on its health insurance plan while you’re out on leave, but they can ask you for reimbursement of your health insurance premiums if you don’t return to work for them after your FMLA leave.

In addition, FMLA doesn’t mandate that employers allow you to accrue time or benefits towards seniority while you’re out on leave, such as vacation accrual or qualifying for raises based on seniority, or vesting in company retirement plans.

You also won’t be able to contribute to your 401(k) plan, flexible spending account, or health savings account because you’re not receiving a paycheck and can’t contribute pre-tax dollars to these plans.

Related: Insurance for Parents

When does paternity leave start?

If you’re eligible to use FMLA, your employer must let you take time off any time during your partner’s pregnancy or within one year of your child’s birth. Many new dads choose to take their paternity leave after the new mom has exhausted hers to have continuity of a parent being with the newborn.

Employers can require you to use your paid time off, like vacation days and sick days, before you’re entitled to FMLA leave.

How do I request paternity leave?

First, you need to know your company’s policy by talking with an HR representative or reading your employee handbook. Before making your request, determine when you want to begin your leave and how long you want to be out on leave. As a good employee, you need to give your employer as much time as you can so they can begin to prepare for your absence.

Your request may be denied if your company doesn’t have a paternity leave policy in place or if you are requesting more time than is typically allowed. This is another good reason that you understand your rights under FMLA.

What if you can't take paternity leave?

If you don't qualify for FMLA, or you work for a small company without a paternity leave policy, you may not have the opportunity to take paternity leave.

If this is the case, have an honest discussion about why you need this leave of absence. Your employer may grant it to you for a period of time that’s less than the twelve weeks of FMLA, but enough time for you to help your partner with the responsibilities of caring for a new baby.

Biden's American Families Plan

President Biden’s American Families Plan prioritizes medical and family leave. The president is proposing twelve weeks of paid leave for all new parents, both moms, and dads. If the plan is passed, workers will be able to recoup up to 80% of their wages, capped at $4,000 per month.

With all of the benefits of paternity leave for dads, businesses also benefit by having a happier workforce and better employee retention. Talk with your manager about your employer’s paternity leave plan, especially if your company doesn’t yet have one.

Having grown up in upstate New York, Bob Phillips spent over 15 years in the financial services world and has been making freelance writing contributions to blogs and websites since 2007. He resides in North Texas with his wife and Doberman puppy.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published June 1, 2021
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