Do Men Have a Right to Paternity Leave?

Father Holding Newborn Wonders if He Has Right to Paternity Leave

There is a lot to think about when a man's partner is expecting a child. Many new fathers want to take time off work to address the practical issues of caring for a newborn, and to bond with their new children. But will doing so put your job at risk? Do men have a right to paternity leave from work?

In this blog post, I will review the federal laws related to parental leave in the United States, including the Family Medical Leave Act. I will discuss the EEOC v. Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., and how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act can be used to protect men's right to paternity leave. I will also explain when and how an employment attorney can help get fathers time off after their children come home.

Do Men Have a Right to Paternity Leave Under the FMLA?

The answer to the question "Do men have a right to paternity leave?" depends on what you mean by the question. When you are looking into parental leave, it is important to distinguish between paid and unpaid time off. The United States is the only country among 41 nations surveyed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that does not have any level of mandatory paid parental leave. Instead, the decision to offer paid parental leave is left to the individual companies. If they choose not to offer this employment benefit, there is little an employee can do short of finding another job.

However, there is a national right to unpaid parental leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The law requires public agencies, public and private schools , and companies with at least 50 employees to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. This leave can be used for:

  • Serious health conditions
  • Care of a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition
  • Placement of a foster or adoptive child with the employee
  • Parental leave for the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee

To be eligible, employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. They must also work in a location where the company employs at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

Unpaid FMLA leave applies to mothers and fathers, natural and adoptive parents alike. If your family has the financial means to do so, this means that men have the right to up to 12 weeks of paternity leave to connect with their children.

How Can Title VII Help Fathers Seeking Paid Paternity Leave?

Many two-income families would rather not resort to unpaid FMLA leave, especially given the costs connected to bringing home a new child. There may be no universal right to paid paternity leave, but where a company offers paid maternity leave, Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act requires that benefit to apply to fathers too, regardless of gender.

Earlier in 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took Estee Lauder to court on this issue. The EEOC's complaint said the makeup and skin care manufacturer had violated Title VII and the Equal Pay Act by offering different parental leave benefits to men and women in their employ. Under the company's parental leave program, Estee Lauder would pay for leave provided to new mothers to recover from childbirth, as well as an additional 6 weeks of parental leave to bond with their children. New fathers were only granted 2 weeks of child bonding time. The lawsuit said that new mothers also receive flexible return-to-work benefits when their maternity leave expired, but fathers didn't have the same opportunities.

Title VII and the Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination in pay or benefits based on sex. The EEOC said in its complaint that Estee Lauder's policy violated those laws by setting different time limits and conditions on maternity leave and paternity leave of their employees. The case is still ongoing, but it makes clear that an employer cannot treat men seeking paternal leave differently because of their sex.

Where to Start to See if You Have a Right to Paternity Leave

If your wife or partner is expecting a child, now is the time to start investigating your right to paternity leave. The employment discrimination attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, can help you uncover your options and determine if there are any claims under state or federal laws. We will start by reviewing your contract or employee handbook to see what the policies are at your place of employment. Next, we will see if you qualify for unpaid FMLA leave. We may also be able to negotiate with your employer to correct civil rights violations or other illegal policies, and take the matter to court if necessary. If you need help exercising your right to paternity leave, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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