Labor and Employment

Parental Leave to Bond With a New Child

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Learn whether you're entitled to paid or unpaid time for the birth of your child.

If you’re expecting a new child—whether through birth, adoption, or foster care—you should know about the federal and state laws that give you the right to take time off work to bond with your child. In a few states, you may even have the right to be paid for some or all of your parental leave. (This article describes time off for parental bonding after your child arrives; for information on time off for pregnancy disability, read our article on leave for pregnancy and childbirth.)

Unpaid Parental Leave

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), companies with 50 or more employees must give qualifying employees unpaid leave for certain family-related or medical reasons. Employees are eligible if they have worked for the company for at least one year and for at least 1,250 hours in the year preceding the leave. Employees must also work within a 75-mile radius of at least 50 other employees.

The FMLA allows both mothers and fathers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with a new child within 12 months of the baby’s birth. The same leave is available to parents adopting a child or caring for a foster child, within 12 months of the child's placement. Some of the leave may be taken before the adoption or foster placement to deal with related legal or administrative issues, such as undergoing examinations, attending counseling, or appearing in court. (FMLA leave is also available to care for a child with a serious health condition; to learn more, see our article on what qualifies as a serious health condition.)

Many states have laws similar to the FMLA, which may apply to smaller employers or provide additional time off for bonding leave. Other states may also have separate laws requiring employers to provide additional leave for pregnancy disability for mothers (pregnancy disability includes the time you are unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions). And, even if the FMLA or a similar state law doesn’t apply, state law may require employers to make equal leave available to adoptive parents if they provide leave to biological parents. Employers must follow whichever law, whether state or federal, provides the most protections to employees. (For more information on the FMLA, including eligibility requirements, see our overview article on taking leave under the FMLA.)

Voluntary Paid Leave Policies

The United States is one of the few developed countries in the world that doesn't guarantee nationwide paid parental leave to working mothers and fathers. Some employers, however, voluntarily offer their employees paid parenting leave when employees need time off to care for a new child. Because men and women are both able to take advantage of this leave, employers must offer the same leave to new mothers and fathers. To do otherwise would be illegal sex discrimination under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

State Paid Family Leave Laws

In addition to any paid parental leave benefit your employer may voluntarily provide, you may be eligible for paid family leave under the laws of your state. Currently, a small number of states offer paid family leave programs, which pay employees a portion of their usual wages while they take time off to bond with a new child. For example, New York will begin offering eight weeks of paid family leave in 2018, which employees can use to spend with a new child. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island also have paid family leave programs. Washington state and the District of Columbia will have paid family leave available starting in 2020. These benefits are typically only a portion of the employee’s normal salary and are paid by the state.

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