Is FMLA Enough? Or Do Fathers Need Paid Leave?

Is FMLA Enough? Or Do Fathers Need Paid Leave?

By Cassandra Emery, associate professor at American Public University

Is it important for a father to be actively involved in the first few weeks of a child’s life?  Do they need time to bond with their newborn and support their partners?    

As administrations compete to recruit and retain a strong workforce, fathers are struggling to find a balance between providing economically for their households and spending time with their partners and children. How can an organization support the role of a father in order to remain competitive in hiring and meet the needs of families? 

Image Credit: Giles Cook via Flickr

We know that FMLA provides unpaid leave to parents within the first year of the child’s birth. But what about the families in which the father’s income is essential to the household’s economic stability? Can a father afford to take unpaid leave to spend time with a child? 

In a recent study conducted by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, 89 percent of men interviewed rated paternity leave as important when considering an employer. Those responding wanted 2-4 weeks of paid leave.  Is that unrealistic and how do these findings impact employers?

In 2011, the City of Chicago implemented a paid paternity leave policy. Partners were given a week of paid leave in addition to vacation and sick time for the birth of a child, and adoptive parents were given two weeks of paid leave. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the shift in policy was to remain competitive in hiring and retaining employees.  He went further to say: "I can say this as somebody who took a week off when each child was born, of my three; it's the right thing to do by your employees. It's good business, it's good values, and it's a great way to start a child off in the bonding between an adult and a child.”

While many employers offer short-term disability coverage that can provide financial support to  women for pregnancy or childbirth, it does not apply to  new fathers.  In response, several states have enacted laws that expand the work of FMLA and go beyond simply offering short-term disability. For example, New Jersey and California offer paid family leave insurance through payroll deductions. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, all three states fund their programs through employee-paid payroll taxes and are administered through their respective disability programs.  The state of Washington passed a paid family leave law in 2007, originally to take effect in October 2009, but the law was never implemented and subsequent legislation has indefinitely postponed its implementation.

In February of 2014, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FAMILY Act) which expands upon the paid leave insurance programs established in California and New Jersey. The FAMILY Act would create a trust fund within the Social Security Administration funded by employee and employer contributions to provide paid leave for employees to take caregiving days.

Does the workplace recognize the important role of a father and are employers remaining competitive in offering benefits that support families? Several state and local governments have successfully implemented paid paternity leave insurance and payroll deduction programs. Whether it is through programs developed by state government or a federal system, it is important for public administrators to recognize the import roles of fathers and to provide benefits that would attract and retain these qualified workers.

About the Author

Cassandra “Casey” Emery's core focus areas are public policy, public administration and criminal justice. Casey served as the  Executive Director & CEO for the YWCA of Richmond, a nonprofit organization that has been a leader in providing crisis and community based services for victims of domestic and sexual violence and provides high-quality early childhood development.  Prior to joining the YWCA, Casey served as president & CEO at Peters Consulting, LLC, working on systems-change initiatives, public policy efforts and the creation of systemic partnerships. 

Casey holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), as well as a law degree from the University of Richmond.  She completed the Political Leaders Program at the Thomas C. Sorensen Institute at the University of Virginia and the Leadership Metro Richmond program, and was named one of Richmond’s Top 40 Under 40 in Fall 2009. 

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