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7 min read

What Is Paternity Leave: Benefits, Rights, and How to Apply

In the United States, “paternity leave” may seem like a labyrinth of federal, state-specific, and employer-driven policies. Does it offer paid or unpaid leave? What are the options? What rights do you have during this leave? How best can you prepare for this leave, and what are the potential impacts on families and workplaces? Let’s dive into this journey together, one that will equip us with valuable insights into paternity leave.

Key Takeaways

  • Discover the benefits of paternity leave for fathers, families, and businesses.
  • Explore your options to find the best fit including FMLA, state laws & employer policies.
  • Prepare with thoughtful planning and communication to make the most of this rewarding experience!

Paternity Leave: Definition and Purpose

Paternity leave, also known as partner leave, is a period of absence from work granted to new fathers after the birth or adoption of their child. It gives fathers the chance to spend time cherishing the initial precious moments with their baby and offer essential support to the mother post-childbirth. However, there isn’t a national paternity leave program in the US, making it a bit of a patchwork depending on which state you live in and your employer’s policies.

Paternity leave extends numerous long-term benefits. For fathers, it’s a chance to build a robust bond with their children and engage in their care from the early stages. It promotes a more equal division of parental responsibilities, contributing to gender equality. For mothers, having their partner home for longer periods after the birth makes them feel more supported and less overwhelmed. Despite these benefits, only 21% of US workers have access to paid parental leave through employers, a stark contrast to other countries.

The Scope of Paternity Leave Across the Nation

Paternity leave in the United States is a complex tableau, painted with strokes of federal laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), state-specific paid family leave laws, and employer-driven policies, including paid family leave.

To comprehend this landscape, we need to examine each of these components.

Federal Perspectives: FMLA and Beyond

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that enables eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific family or medical reasons, including paternity leave. This means that new dads can take time off from work to care for a newborn, adopted, or foster child. However, the drawback is the leave is unpaid, and numerous workers either can’t afford to take unpaid time off or don’t qualify for FMLA.

The US is one of the few countries that offers paid leave, as revealed in a 2018 report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Compared to 41 countries surveyed in the report, the US has some of the most generous policies in place. While employees can combine their FMLA leave with their own paid leave, vacation, or sick leave, the reality remains that only a handful of American fathers take more than two weeks off after welcoming a new baby.

State-Specific Paternity Leave Laws

Moving beyond federal law, we encounter a diverse array of state-specific paternity leave laws, each unique in terms of duration, pay, and eligibility. Some states with inspiring laws regulating paternity leave include:

  • California

  • New York

  • Massachusetts

  • New Jersey

  • Rhode Island

  • Washington

  • Connecticut

  • District of Columbia

For instance, different states have different policies regarding parental leave:

  • California offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave

  • New York City provides 12 weeks of paid leave

  • Massachusetts has the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave, which allows for up to 12 weeks of paid leave

  • Washington offers 12-18 weeks of paid parental leave

  • New Jersey provides 12 weeks of paid parental leave

The variation is vast, emphasizing the importance of familiarizing oneself with the laws in one’s state.

Employer-Driven Paternity Benefits

Transitioning from federal and state laws, we encounter a third player: employers, including federal employees. Some employers offer their own paternity leave benefits, such as paid time off and flexible work arrangements, to lure and retain top talent.

Some companies that offer generous paternity leave policies include:

  • Lululemon

  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise


  • Belle Haven Investments

  • DocuSign

  • Google

  • Netflix

  • Etsy

  • Twitter

  • American Express

  • Square

  • Pinterest

The average duration of paternity leave offered by employers to support new fathers is 17 days, but the scope varies greatly from one employer to another.

Navigating the intricacies of paternity leave often involves understanding your options for paid and unpaid leave. These options can depend on various factors, including your state of residence, employer policies, and eligibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The Reality of Paid Paternity Leave

Paid paternity leave is a rare privilege in the US, available only in a few states and to some employees, depending on their employer’s policies. Some states that have passed paid parental leave laws include:

  • Oregon

  • Colorado

  • Delaware

  • Maryland

California was the first state to offer paid paternity and maternity leave. New York City provides 12 weeks of paid leave to its employees. Additionally, Massachusetts also offers up to 12 weeks of paid time off through the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave program.

However, the actual situation of paid paternity leave is not as positive as it appears. Despite these perks, less than 5 percent of American fathers take advantage of the opportunity to take two or more weeks of paid leave off after welcoming a new baby.

Navigating Unpaid Leave

For most fathers in the US, unpaid leave is the standard, not the exception, with the FMLA providing up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. This means that new dads can take time off from work to care for a newborn, adopted, or foster child without the fear of losing their job.

However, the financial strain of unpaid leave often prevents many fathers from taking full advantage of this option. Even though the FMLA provides job protection, many workers worry about wage loss or potential workplace discrimination, which can deter them from taking paternity leave.

Preparing for Paternity Leave: A Step-by-Step Guide

Once you’ve navigated the complexities of paid and unpaid leave options, the next step is to prepare for paternity leave. This involves careful planning, communication with your employer, and strategies to make the most of your time off.

Timing and Coordination

Proper timing and coordination are fundamental for a successful paternity leave experience. The optimal time to take paternity leave is a personal decision that works best for you and your family, considering factors like the birth of the child, the mother’s recovery period, and other commitments or responsibilities.

Successfully coordinating paternity leave with your partner’s maternity leave is a delicate dance. Communication, planning, and consideration of each other’s needs are key. It’s also important to consider the baby’s development and family dynamics when planning for paternity leave, as research shows that fathers who take parental leave are less likely to see their relationships end.

Communication with Employers

Communicating with your employer is a vital step in preparing for paternity leave. The ideal time to inform your employer about your paternity leave is typically 3 to 6 months before the expected birth. However, this may vary depending on your company’s policies, and it’s always recommended to provide as much notice as possible to ensure proper planning and coordination during the first few weeks of your leave.

When communicating your plans to your employer, it’s important to:

  • Be proactive

  • Document your daily tasks and responsibilities

  • Maintain an open dialogue with your employer and coworkers about your leave plans and return to work

It’s worth noting that under the FMLA, employees are encouraged to request paternity leave with at least 30 days advance notice.

Making the Most of Leave Time

Paternity leave is not just time off from work; it presents a unique opportunity to bond with your newborn, support your partner, and sustain a healthy work-life balance. Focusing on these aspects can help you make the most of your leave time.

Strategies like holding the baby skin-to-skin, bathing with the baby, practicing baby-wearing, and creating rituals specifically for bonding with your new child can help develop a strong bond with your newborn during paternity leave. Enjoy this special time to create lasting memories with your newborn and show your partner your support.

Job Protection and Legal Rights During Paternity Leave

Job protection and legal rights during paternity leave are vital to guarantee that fathers can take time off without fear of retaliation or adverse consequences at work. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act are two federal laws that provide job protection during paternity leave.

These laws provide a safety net for fathers, promising that they will have their job waiting for them when they return from paternity leave. However, if an employer violates these rights, fathers can take action by filing a complaint with the appropriate authority or considering the help of an employment attorney.

The Impact of Paternity Leave on Families and Workplaces

Paternity leave is not just time off for new dads; it has a ripple effect that impacts families and workplaces alike. The impact of paternity leave includes:

  • Improved child development

  • Stronger family bonds

  • Increased employee satisfaction

  • Workplace productivity

The impact of paternity leave is significant.

For the Family

For families, paternity leave allows fathers to:

  • be fully present during the early stages of their child’s life

  • foster a stronger bond between father and child

  • promote a more equal division of family responsibilities at home.

However, many fathers are hesitant about taking paternity leave due to wage worries, potential workplace discrimination, and the perception that taking time off for child care is unnecessary. Despite these concerns, the psychological benefits of paternity leave for fathers are immense, with a decreased risk of depression and stress, improved mental health, and reduced symptoms of fatigue.

For the Business

For businesses, offering paternity leave benefits can elevate employee satisfaction, increase workplace productivity, and decrease turnover costs. However, the cost and potential disruption can be a deterrent for some businesses.

To navigate these challenges, businesses can take proactive steps such as forming a task force, maintaining open communication, and encouraging dialogue. This not only helps manage team dynamics during a team member’s paternity leave but also fosters a supportive and inclusive workplace culture.


Paternity leave plays a significant role in supporting new fathers as they embark on the journey of parenthood. While the landscape of paternity leave in the US is complex, with a mix of federal, state-specific, and employer-driven policies, it’s important for fathers to understand their options and rights.

From planning and coordinating leave to communicating with employers and making the most of leave time, preparing for paternity leave is a journey in itself. But the benefits are worth it, for both families and workplaces. Here’s to a future where all fathers can enjoy the benefits of paternity leave, for the betterment of families, workplaces, and society!

Frequently Asked Questions

Paternity leave refers to the legal time off from work that a father of a new baby can take in order to bond with their partner and child. It is an important employee benefit for fathers, as they have the same right to take time away from work after the birth or adoption of a child as mothers do.

Unfortunately, the US does not currently have a federal law guaranteeing fathers paid paternity leave. The only legal protection is the FMLA which offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents, so the availability of paid paternity leave is largely left up to employers to provide.

The US provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected paternity leave for both parents, through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law ensures that fathers can bond with the baby during the crucial first months of its life.

Quinn is RemotePad’s authority on remote work and HR tools. A Baltimore native, Quinn has a Bachelor of Arts from the College of William & Mary and a professional background in copy editing and education.