Paternity Leave — The Risks and Rewards

Changing the Social Perception of Paternity Leave

Maternity leave has long been recognized across corporate America. However, more and more companies are starting to offer paternity leave to fathers of newborn or adopted infants. Researchers have mixed messages for dads who are considering taking time off to bond with their babies.

According to social scientists, fathers who take an active role in the lives of their newborn children are more likely to stay involved at a higher level. Because of the more active role they play, they tend to have children who are emotionally healthier. Studies also show that wives of men who take paternity leave have increased career earnings, and are less prone to post-partum depression.

For men in some professions, and with certain companies, the paternity leave may be a paid benefit. For most fathers, though, especially those at larger companies, the right to take paternity leave is guaranteed under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but there is no requirement of compensation for the leave. Currently, slightly more than one in every 10 employers offers paid paternity leave. A recent study also showed that one in five companies are in violation of the FMLA for failing to provide paternity leave.

Researchers warn, however, that even in companies where paid benefits are offered, there are still some unwritten rules that discourage fathers from taking leave. Few men take more than one week, although the FMLA guarantees up to 12 weeks and most employer paid programs are comparable. Furthermore, many men face pressures at work if they seek to take the time allowed. An attorney at a large corporate law firm that offered paid paternity benefits told researchers that he was advised by a senior partner not to take the leave. According to the senior partner, taking the paternity leave would send the message that he did not have the appropriate level of commitment to the firm and to his clients.

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