Paternity Leave: Benefits, Concerns and FAQs

By Emma Esparza

Updated April 9, 2022 | Published June 18, 2020

Updated April 9, 2022

Published June 18, 2020

Emma Esparza is a career coach at Indeed with experience as a recruiter, university career advisor and senior technical career coach. She is passionate about guiding all jobseekers in their intersectional uniqueness towards a successful job search and fulfilling career.

Welcoming a new child into your family is a special and life-changing moment for parents. While paid parental leave is typically less-available in the United States compared to some other countries, it is even rarer for men to be offered paid leave by their employers than women—13% compared to 21%, respectively. Men also take less time off than women, with seven out of 10 fathers taking 10 or fewer days. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states, “76% of fathers are back to work within a week after the birth or adoption of a child.”

Research has shown that longer paternity leave can lead to better outcomes for the family, including increased bonding, higher parental satisfaction rates and heightened engagement. In this article, we take a closer look at paternity leave, including stats and figures, how to find out if you qualify and one Indeed father’s story about taking paternity leave and returning to work during COVID-19.

Deciding to take paternity leave (and common concerns)

The decision to take paternity leave is deeply personal, and while it’s especially challenging if your leave is unpaid, data shows that even men who have access to paid leave may find it difficult to decide whether or how much time they should be away from the office. As SHRM states, “The 2018 Global Parental Leave report released by HR consultancy Mercer in September shows that in Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, at least 23% of fathers could be taking paid paternity leave but are not.”

One common concern about taking partially paid leave is the stigma of being the primary financial provider in their family, while many others express a fear of falling behind or facing judgment at work.

The reality is that there’s a general consensus about the benefits of using available paternity leave, such as bonding with a child, family well-being and more home-life equity by supporting working mothers. Also, taking leave gives men space to cope with a lack of sleep or increased stress associated with this life event.

When men take a meaningful amount of time off work to care for a new child, it can also play a crucial role in supporting equity for women by balancing the associated workload at home, helping women maintain their momentum at work, and thus helping to close the gender pay gap.

One father’s experience with paternity leave and returning to work

We sat down with an Indeed father to discuss his recent experience with paternity leave, including how he decided whether and how much time off to take, his experience with time off and how he’s adjusting to coming back to work.

Preparing for paternity leave

When Clint Carrens found out he and his wife would soon be having their second child, he started researching his options for parental leave with Indeed. He felt fortunate to have a trusting relationship with his manager and was comfortable starting the conversation early.

At Indeed, he had two options for parental leave (both fully paid)—a six-week “secondary caregiver” plan or a four-month “primary caregiver” plan:

“When I first found out about the options,” Clint explained, “I thought, I’m not the mother, so I must be the secondary caregiver. I assumed I would be limited to six weeks of leave.” However, when he found out that he could in fact take the primary caregiver leave as a father at Indeed, and that his wife would not receive as much time off from her employer, he decided to take four months to help care for his family at home.

Clint knew the available leave option was the right decision for his family despite any associated stigma and was excited about the opportunity to bond with his newborn. It is also worth noting that avoiding the cost of daycare played a factor in his family’s decision-making process—a challenge for many parents who may decide to sacrifice their job to care for children since child care (in addition to the many other costs of living) may end up costing more than they earn, and can result in mothers leaving the workplace altogether.

“Indeed was a great partner in the process, but some of the logistics of the transition were still a little tricky, so I’m glad I started planning as soon as possible,” he said. He and his manager created a strategy planning the month before his leave started, which included focusing on impactful but short-term individual projects.

Getting the most of paternity leave

Clint says he was repeatedly given one piece of advice about leave: “A lot of people told me that if I was going to take time off, then I should completely disengage from my work life. But I wanted to be flexible and creative to find what worked for me.”

The four months of leave were a blissful but challenging blur. He cherished the time he spent with his son and was grateful that he could take on additional responsibilities at home while his wife worked. In the weeks leading up to the end of his paternity leave, he missed work and found it helpful to remind himself that it’s normal to want to get back to some version of your old life.

Returning to the office after paternity leave

“It was important for me to come to work with the attitude I’d have if I was starting a brand new job—ready to learn and feeling okay about asking plenty of questions,” he says about planning his return to the office. He arrived back at Indeed with the expectation that he would need to be “re-onboarded” to catch up on changes to the business and learn new processes. That outlook helped him face the inevitable challenges of prolonged time away from a job.

Clint was able to ease into work with Indeed’s four-week transitional period when returning to work after parental leave, in which you can work with your manager to ramp up to full time. Clint says, “I had a supportive manager who gradually increased my responsibilities, even though it may have been tempting to do the opposite. Since my manager had experience taking maternity leave, she understood that the time away wasn’t a vacation and that I was still sleep-deprived and exhausted.”

Setting clear expectations and establishing a supportive routine of conversation enables parents to have a much better experience returning to work. Having a plan is crucial both before you depart and when returning to the workplace. Soon enough, he was able to establish a new routine and even felt reinvigorated in his job.

Though just when things were returning to normal, Indeed offices closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19. He and his wife were back at home, both working, along with two young children. “Working from home has presented an entirely new set of challenges, but we’re getting by,” he says. For tips and resources, visit our Parent’s Guide to Working From Home With Kids.

Paternity leave FAQs

What is paternity leave?

Paternity leave (also called family or parental leave) is a period of time off work parents (typically fathers) are given after the birth or adoption of a child with the guarantee that they will be able to return to their job without penalty. There are several different types of paternity leave in the United States that range in the amount of time off and compensation provided.

First, if you meet specific qualifications, you could be allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Unpaid leave may present some obvious challenges as many parents might like to spend 12 weeks with a new child but may not be able to do so if it means giving up a regular income.

Another option includes partially paid leave by an employer for a set time frame, while the most generous leave plans provide new fathers with 100% pay for weeks or even months depending on the company. However, these benefits are not the norm. According to a fact sheet published in 2019 by the National Partnership for Women & Families, “Only 20% of private-sector workers are employed at worksites that offer paid paternity leave to most or all male employees, and only 9% of private-sector workers are employed at worksites that offer paid paternity leave to all male employees.”

Do I qualify for paternity leave?

To find out if you qualify for unpaid parental leave under FMLA, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s fact sheet that lists employer and employee eligibility requirements. You should also ask your company’s human resources department. While all states must comply with FMLA at a minimum, some states have additional laws that make it easier for workers to qualify for family leave, so research your individual state’s policies as well.

To determine if your employer offers full or partially paid paternity leave, ask an HR representative at your company or try to find it in your employer’s internal resources.

In any case, do your research early—most employers require at least 30 days advance notice before you can take paid or unpaid parental leave so they can file appropriate documentation and follow government and company protocols.

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