Paternity Leave

Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Table of Contents

As employees experience the changes of starting a family, it’s important to help them understand how paternity leave works, which requires a fundamental understanding by the HR professional first. Here we look at what paternity leave is, why it’s important for an organization to offer different types of policies, how to find the best policy and specific HR responsibilities about paternity leave.

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What Is Paternity Leave?

Paternity leave is most easily defined as leave for the partner of a pregnant woman, surrogate parent, or someone who has been matched with a child by an adoption or foster agency. Currently this falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) stating that if the employee has worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave and that their current employer has more than 50 people, the employee is allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-secured time off within the first year following the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child. At the local level, nine states currently offer paid paternity leave, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington D.C. and Washington state.

Why Is Offering Paternity Leave Important?

Offering paternity leave is one way that an organization can help employees prioritize the responsibilities of their family. Here are a few reasons outlining its importance for an organization:

  • Employee retention. Ensuring that employees are supported at each stage of life throughout their career with an organization is a large responsibility of HR and greatly impacts quality employee retention. Outside of employee engagement programs, pay increases, and career advancements, this commonly overlooked benefit offers additional support to employees at important periods of their life
  • Changing the culture. By offering paternity leave, an organization not only helps children and spouses, but encourages and protects the culture around the entire family. Allowing the spouse or partner to be present with his family at critical times creates a bond that would be absent without paternity leave.
  • Increased engagement. Encouraging employees to find a healthy work-life balance fosters greater engagement in the workplace.Offering paternity leave is an important element in supporting employees to discover this personal balance.

Different Types of Paternity Leave Policies

These are some examples of different types of paternity leave policies:

Graded Paid Policy

A commonly adopted paternity leave policy is based on employees current tenure. This policy could look something like:

  • Five full years of service = 100% salary
  • One full year of service = 60% salary
  • Less than one full year of service = 40% salary

Traditionally for a policy like this, the organization would select an “up to” amount for a cap of paid time, for example, up to 4 weeks paid time. For part time employees this type of policy would simply pro-rate the compensation based on the average number of hours worked.

Flexible Arrangements

Flexible arrangements provide employees requesting paternity leave an added benefit of transition into both home and work life. This policy could allow employees to flex their hours with an agreed upon hour minimum per week. This should not be confused with ‘Flextime’, which allows employees to have different start and end times each day with a fixed hour requirement prior to the leave. Flexible arrangements would allow the employee to work less than the normal hours in order to enjoy the company benefit of paternity leave and time with their family.

Traditional FMLA policy

Currently some organizations do not support more of a robust paternity leave policy. With this in mind, another paternity leave policy would be to strictly follow FMLA guidelines and provide the required 12 weeks unpaid time off.

How To Know Which Policy is Right for Your Organization

When evaluating new policies, assess the culture to ensure the new policy selection reflects that culture and the direction the organization is heading. As with other policies, the best choice is one that benefits current employees and supports the organization at the same time.

The Responsibilities of HR for an Employee To Take Paternity Leave

To ensure a smooth transition for an employee preparing to take paternity leave, here are some responsibilities to secure both protection for the organization and support for the employee:

Qualify the Paternity Leave

Specify with the employee his qualifications for paternity leave under FMLA requirements. Also discuss if the employee is qualified for any additional benefits provided by the employer.

Understand the Timeline

After the employee has qualified for paternity leave, the duration of leave should be clarified. While FMLA provides employees with 12 weeks unpaid time, the typical amount of paternity leave time is shorter, around 2-4 weeks depending upon the employee’s need, so clarification is critical.


Managers and direct supervisors of the employee will need to be informed at this step.

Create a Contingency Plan

An important priority in this step is evaluating the work that will need to be completed during the paternity leave to ensure it can be handled and completed appropriately. Working with the supervisor or manager, this evaluation can determine the division of the employee’s load among other employees of similar skill and experience. Creating this contingency plan helps set everyone at ease.

Communicate While On Leave

Lastly, continuing communication with the employee on leave is an important task of HR. When their leave period is coming to an end, communication is an important task in transitioning him back into the workplace.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Paternity Leave

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in order to qualify for paternity leave the employee must have the relationship of parent, meaning: biological, adoptive, step or foster father.
As we have seen, most employers have federal requirements for unpaid paternity leave under FMLA, and some specific states have a more robust paid policy.
Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!

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