Paternity Leave: Are Employers Required to Grant It?
September 22, 2015
A CNN employee recently settled a discrimination claim against the news outlet’s parent company, Time Warner, claiming that it wrongfully denied him paid paternity leave on the basis of his sex. At all times relevant, the company provided paid leave to new adoptive parents, surrogate parents and biological mothers. Biological fathers were not provided such a leave benefit.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires, in part, that employers with 50 or more employees provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new fathers (who are FMLA eligible) for the care of a newborn child, adopted child or child placed for foster care. If the father and mother work for the same employer and each is FMLA eligible, they may collectively take up to 12 weeks, as opposed to 12 weeks each. Aside from the FMLA, there is no federal law which mandates paternity leave, paid or unpaid.
A number of states, including California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have laws requiring paid paternity leave, though, as with the FMLA, certain employee eligibility requirements must be met. Florida does not require employers to provide paternity leave, paid or unpaid.
Fathers are increasingly taking more of an active role in the parenting of their children- that includes the initial months of care following birth, a responsibility which has traditionally fallen on new mothers. Along with this trend is a greater expectation that employers will be more accommodating with regard to paternity leave.
Employers must be careful not to assume that absent FMLA leave rights or state law mandate, that male employees are absolutely not entitled to paternity leave. If an employer has an internal policy, written or unwritten, providing for parental leave (whether paid or unpaid), it cannot administer said policy in a discriminatory fashion as it could invite a discrimination claim under Title VII (as was the case in the CNN employee’s charge cited above) or state law prohibiting employment discrimination.