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Parental Leave - It's For Men Too

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, employers with more than 50 employees must provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents who are qualified employees under the FMLA. Some companies have more generous policies, providing paid parental leave. Yet, some companies who provide maternity leave still do not provide leave for new fathers, and if they do, most men do not take it, according to an article in The New York Times.

Despite the availability of paternity leave, most men take about one week of leave, or none at all, and working class men take even less time off. But as the traditional roles of women and men change, a question of whether society’s attitude toward leave must change arises. A study conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management found that paternity leave has been declining. Some men point to social and workplace pressures as reasons for not taking paternity leave even when their companies offer the leave. Some studies suggest when men do take the leave, they earn less wages over time, receive worse evaluations and fewer raises, and are at greater risk of being laid off or of being demoted––thus, they face what some researchers call the “motherhood penalty.”

The societal benefits of paternity leave, however, are clear. Social scientists say that fathers who spend more time with their children in early childhood, are more likely to be involved in their children’s lives later, and their children will be healthier. In addition, with 70 percent of women with children at home working, paternal leave benefits women in the workforce. In fact, research has found women whose husbands have taken paternity leave have increased career earnings and have less of a chance of being depressed in the months following childbirth.

To combat the cultural stigma of paternity leave, some companies are requiring their male executives to talk about their families as a way of encouraging male employees to take paternity leave. Executives also are taking paternity leave and openly speaking about it to show that it is an acceptable thing to do. Researchers also suggest that society should recast how family leave is portrayed––showing that taking the leave represents the strength of a man rather than casting it as something uncomfortable. Public policy also might shift the way in which paternal leave is accepted in society. Ultimately, if more male employees take the leave, cultural norms eventually might change too.

Both employers and employees who have questions about parental leave should talk to an experienced labor and employment law attorney.