Is the U.S. Ready for Paid Paternity Leave?

According to a recent survey, paid paternity leave is a benefit families want. But, only 14% of U.S. companies offer paid paternity leave. In this post, we look at what’s holding companies back form offering paid paternity leave.

by Marianne Muro

On August 3rd, 2014, The Washington Post published an article by Brigid Schulte concerning a controversial topic. The focus of the article? “More Dads Want Paid Paternity Leave.” A recent Boston College survey of 1,000 fathers indicated that the majority of the participants rated paid paternal leave as important or extremely important; however, only 14 percent of U.S. companies’ offer paid paternal leave to mothers or fathers. Notably, the article also points out that, unlike any other advanced economy in the world, “the United States offers only unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which doesn’t cover 40 percent of the workforce.” Clearly, notes the Institute’s President, this is “one place where business policy has not caught up with changing demographics.”

While companies have traditionally offered limited – if any – paternity leave, some companies, according to the Post article, are expanding their paternal paid leave policies. Among the companies cited: State Street, a Boston-based financial services firm, offers four weeks of paid leave (double its prior allowance) while Yahoo! and Facebook, two ‘high-profile,’ high-tech companies, offer fathers eight and twelve weeks, respectively. Moreover, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) recently issued guidelines that call for employers to do more in the area of paternal leave. Specifically, the commission advocated that equal time be given to mothers and fathers in terms of the care of a newborn child. Indeed, some claim that the corporations providing these types of benefits to their employees will progress further in the long run. According to Lisa Horn of the Society for Human Resources Management, “Traditionally, it was always the mother who took time off to care for new family members. But we’re seeing a real shift.” Horn goes on to say that “companies that offer paid paternal leave for fathers are setting themselves up for a real competitive advantage.”

Still, some lawmakers and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose such policies, claiming they would be “too expensive, create too much bureaucracy and could lead to a drop in wages,” as noted in the article. At the same time, studies show, according to the Post article, “that when men come back from taking parental leave, they’re often treated worse by their colleagues and their bosses.” Indeed, the article cites one father who filed a complaint with the EEOC against his employer, Time Warner, for refusing to grant him “equal paid-leave time,” and another father who claimed he was passed over for promotion because he took unpaid leave to care for his children.

While the United States remains an economic powerhouse, we still have a ways to go as a country in the provision of equal opportunity for paid leave. Perhaps one of the most powerful quotes in the article states: “There’s still a powerful stereotype that real men work; real men earn wages. Women who take extended leave might be seen as less-committed workers, but they’re seen as better women, because the stereotype is that’s the ‘right’ thing for women to do.” If we are going to progress as a nation, the United States needs to recognize paid leave is of vital importance to mothers – and fathers – and, as important, the children, too. Thus, unless change occurs, this country will remain confined to the constructs of conventional gender roles.

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