The birth of a child is a major event in a couple’s life. It’s only natural that the arrival of a child often leads parents to reevaluate their priorities—there’s a brand-new individual on the block they need to worry about. Understandably, many parents prefer to spend some quality time with their child during the first few months, which tends to mean taking some time off work, or at least rearranging their employment schedules. This can cause issues in the workplace, especially if there’s an urgent need for the skills and expertise of the new parent.
This kind of conflict is hardly new—it has long been customary for women to take time off work for their children, and federal laws, particularly the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), allow for this. But what about the father? Traditionally, men tended to carry on at the workplace as usual when the stork delivered a new child, but in recent years we’ve seen an increasing societal emphasis on the importance of family leave rights for dads. What follows is the state of the law as it relates to paternity leave.
As you may already know, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows employees to take unpaid leave for a wide range of health-related issues, including child-rearing. FMLA permits workers to take up to 12 weeks of leave to manage their own serious health issues, or those of a spouse, a close relative, or—more relevant to the present discussion—a son or daughter. FMLA can include simple bonding time with a newborn child.
It is important to understand that this law applies equally to mothers and fathers. Men and women are entitled to unpaid family leave under the provisions of FMLA. It also covers adoptive parents.
Protections under FMLA
Employees who qualify for FMLA protection can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. The 12 weeks do not have to be taken all at once; some employees arrange to have their leave time broken up into non-consecutive periods of time.
After their return from leave, the employee must be restored to their old job or an equivalent position with equivalent pay.
Limitations of FMLA
Not all employees qualify for unpaid leave under FMLA. Restrictions do apply. Persons employed by state or federal governments are always covered by FMLA, but matters aren’t so clear for those who work for private employers.
- Private employers with under fifty employees are not entitled to FMLA leave.
- The employee must have (1) been employed at the company for at least 12 months (which doesn’t have to be a consecutive period of employment) and (2) accumulated at least 1250 hours of work time during the previous 12-month period.
- The employee’s request for leave may be denied if he or she is in the top 10% of wage earners at the company. (The reasoning here is that the employee’s extended absence is more likely to harm the operations of the company.)
In cases where FMLA does not apply, some employees attempt to negotiate alterations to their work schedule to accommodate their new duties as a father.
The Question of Paid Parental Leave
A serious drawback to unpaid leave is the harm it can do to one’s bank account, simply because there’s no money coming in. At the present time, only three states offer paid family leave: California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. A fourth state, New York, will officially launch their paid family leave program on January 1, 2018.
The state of Georgia has no laws guaranteeing paid parental leave.
What to Do If Your FMLA Rights Have Been Violated
FMLA issues can be puzzling and unclear, as a number of exceptions and special circumstances may apply. If you believe your employer may have violated your FMLA rights, please get in touch with Barrett & Farahany, LLP, LLP., at (404) 238-7299.