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Parental Leave in the USA: A Compact Guide

Americans agree that parental leave is important and sorely missing. 96% of Americans think that mothers should receive paid time off after having a child, with 75% agreeing maternity leave should be at least 6 paid weeks. However, in the US, there is no federally mandated paternal leave.

If you are a potential employee interviewing for a new position, you need to make sure the business’s parental leave policies fit your family planning. Here, we’ll cover what to know, what to find out, and how to ask about parental paid time off.

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Why is Parental Leave Important?

Parental leave is an essential part of gender inclusivity in the workplace.  In addition, parental leave pay provides physical, emotional, and career benefits to new parents.

New mothers get time to recover from the physical strain of childbirth without workplace anxiety. They also are less likely to get left behind in their careers and easily return to the same job. Fathers get the opportunity to bond with new children, which is good for both dad and baby. Parental leave helps growing families to find their footing.

What is Paid Parental Leave?

With parental leave pay, workers receive a certain portion of their salary while they take time off to bond with a new child. Typically, parental leave benefits apply to both parents in a household, although a mother giving birth may be entitled to additional medical leave.

Leave for fathers is sometimes called paternity leave (vs maternity leave). Most parental policies can be used for childbirth or adoption.  Family leave is legally mandated in most countries (though not in the US). Leave minimums differ widely between countries.

In Sweden, for example, both parents are entitled to 480 days (16 months) of paid leave at about 80% of their salary (with a cap).

In the UK, expectant mothers can have up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave. During this 12-month period, the amount and type of leave in the UK is dependant on the working status of expectant mothers.  So, how does time off work in the US?

Time Off Policies for New Parents

While the US has no federally mandated paid leave, parents of new children may be able to get time off by using a patchwork of federal and state laws and services.

Federal Parental Leave Policy

Since 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has provided 12 weeks of unpaid time off to certain employees. Employees can use FMLA when they are incapacitated or care for a family member with a serious health condition. It is also used as the most suitable alternative for parental leave for workers in the US.

To qualify for leave entitlements, you must have worked at your current place of business for more than a year. Your business must also have 50 or more employees.

State Leave Laws

In general, some states offer more paid time off than others.  The leave laws in eight states —California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington— and the District of Columbia provide parental leave pay for employees. (We’ll get more into specifics later on.) Other states default to FMLA.

Short-Term Disability

Depending on where they live, soon-to-be or recent mothers can turn to short-term disability insurance. Usually, they will receive a portion of their salary (usually 50–100%) for a specific number of weeks before or after they give birth. Regulations and eligibility vary regionally.

Company Policies

Although they may not be legally obligated to, many big corporations provide paid leave to attract talent. Netflix famously offers a full year of maternal and paternal leave. Companies like Google, Capital One, and Apple offer 18 weeks.

Small businesses may need to keep paid leave in their employee handbook if they hope to retain skilled workers.

Paid Parental Leave for Federal Employees

Until recently, federal workers have been guaranteed only the standard unpaid leave. A new law going into effect in October 2020 promises 12 weeks of paid leave for all federal employees.

While this is an important step forward, the bill has been criticized for its limitations. While most state programs fund paid family leaves with a payroll tax increase, this federal bill reduces the employee’s future child tax credit.
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Parental Leave in the US by State

State laws governing paid time off for parents may not offer job protection. However, employees may be able to use state protections and federal protections concurrently. Regulations will also vary based on the size of the business.

How much parental leave can an employee take? Like time off for illness, paid parental leave differs by state. Each state also has its eligibility requirements and employee parental leave approval process. Employees must check their local laws for more information, but for a brief overview, they can start below:

Parental Leave California

Starting in 2021, the Paid Family Leave (PFL) will entitle new or expecting mothers and their partners to 6 weeks of paid, job-protected leave. Paired with California state disability insurance, mothers may be able to get 12 weeks PTO altogether.

Parental Leave Massachusetts

Beginning July 1st, 2021, paid family leave of up to 12 weeks will be guaranteed with Massachusetts’s Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML).

Parental Leave NYC

Employees in New York City (and all of New York State) currently have 10 weeks of paid family leave, which will go up to 12 weeks in 2021. Parental leave New York can be supplemented by short-term disability insurance.

Parental Leave Washington State

Under the Paid Family and Medical Leave, parents are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave. Those who give birth to babies may receive 16 weeks of joint medical and maternal leave. Eligible parents receive up to 90% of their pay, up to $1000/week.

Parental Leave Canada

Parental leave in Canada is considerably more generous than in the US. Under standard employment insurance maternity and paternity benefits, pregnant employees or new mothers are eligible to take 15 weeks of paid maternity leave. During this time, they receive up to 55% of their salaries, to a maximum of $573 a week.

New parents can split additional time off between themselves or give it all to one parent. There are two different plans which offer 45 and 60 weeks of coverage at 55% and 33% of their salaries.

Paid Time Off and Leave FAQs

Should You Use Accrued Paid Time Off for Parental Leave?

Many companies ask employees to use their sick and vacation days during their FMLA-guaranteed 12 weeks off. Some people save up their annual leave for vacation and illness to cover their time away from work.

For example, if an employee accrues two weeks of sick time and two weeks of vacation time, they can use these paid time off USA allowances to receive payment for four working weeks.

When to Ask About Paternal Leave Policies?

Don’t give in to the temptation to ask about the business’s parental policy during the job interview. Instead, it may be more strategic to ask about this sensitive information after receiving an offer. Unfortunately, some employers may be less inclined to hire someone interested in starting a family.

How Should Businesses Track Leave?

As you can see, parental leave US policies can get a little complicated, between federal and state laws, short-term disability claims, and company policy. Smart businesses that want to comply with the law and are fair to their employees, track parental leave with absence management systems.

Employees and supervisors can review PTO accrual, scheduling, and payroll adjustments with one centralized system. This system gives employers peace of mind and allows parents to concentrate on what matters: their growing family.

Easily Track Employee Parental Leave

Written by Valerie Slaughter

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