One of the greatest challenges facing American workers is that of balancing work and family. In recent years, fathers have taken on increased roles in child rearing. It is now commonplace for a father to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent or for a father to share equally in the household and child rearing tasks.

At one time, few companies offered maternity leave because most mothers didn't work outside the home, but today's employers face increasing demands for parental leave for both men and women. There are several general legal requirements for employers offering parental leave to both male and female employees.

Paid Leave

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't require companies to provide paid maternity leave to its employees. Many American employers, however, voluntarily offer their full-time female employees a few weeks of paid maternity leave following the birth of a baby. This leave is generally classified as medical leave, stemming from pregnancy-related disabilities. Companies that offer medical-related maternity leave do not have to offer paid paternity leave to new fathers.

However, if an employer offers paid maternity leave that is not classified as a medical disability resulting from pregnancy, it must offer that same leave to fathers or face employment-discrimination liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Similarly, employers that offer paid leave following the adoption of a child must provide the same leave opportunities to both fathers and mothers.

In instances where both parents work for the same company, it is acceptable for the employer to offer the couple a period of leave and require them to split it among themselves as they see fit , or to offer the leave to only one parent and require the couple to decide which one will take the leave.

According to government statistics for 2007, approximately 8% of private sector companies offer paid family leave to their employees.

Unpaid Parental Leave

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), companies must give qualifying employees at least 12 weeks of annual unpaid leave due to certain family-related or medical reasons. The FMLA applies to most employers with 50 or more employees, as well as public agencies. Qualifying employees must have worked for the company for at least 1,250 hours and for at least one year.

The FMLA allows both mothers and fathers to take leave:

  • To care for a new baby (any time during that child's first 12 months of life)
  • Following the adoption of a child (within 12 months of the child's placement)
  • Following the placement of a foster child with the employee (within 12 months of the child's placement)
  • To care for his or her child, if he or she has a serious health condition

In addition to the FMLA, most states have some type of parental-leave laws. If the state laws provide greater protections or benefits to workers than the FMLA, the state laws will govern. If a state law, however, provides inferior protections to its workers, the FMLA applies.

Tagged as: Labor and Employment, Family Medical Leave Act, parental leave, labor lawyer