Paid Paternity Leave Programs Gradually Improving In U.S.

paternity leaveSan Francisco recently became the first city in the United States to require employers to offer six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents.

California already has one of the most progressive laws in the country, requiring employers to pay 55% of an employee’s wages for up to six weeks of paid family leave. Higher income workers have been the most likely to take advantage of that law. The San Francisco ordinance seeks to extend the benefits to lower-income new parents.

The San Francisco law was passed just a day after New York passed its own law requiring 12 weeks of partially paid time off for new parents.

This is welcomed progress as the United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to new parents. California, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only states that currently have paid family leave programs.

A big part of the problem probably has to do with cultural attitudes as many fathers face pressure to return to the workplace as soon as possible. Consider the way New York Mets second baseman was criticized for missing Opening Day – just one game in a 162-game season – for the birth of his son.

Even when companies do offer employees paternity leave, it’s not always in new dads’ best interest to take advantage of them as studies show taking time off can have a long-term negative impact on a man’s career.

That the U.S. lags so far behind, and that attitudes remain so condescending, is baffling and frustrating considering how beneficial paid family leave programs are for families.

Perhaps most significantly, paid paternity leave results in more involved fathers. A Rutgers University study that analyzed 100,000 children in the U.S found fathers who took two or more weeks of paternity leave were more likely to continue doing tasks like diapering, feeding, dressing and bathing later in the child’s development.

Not only does that provide the child with a more engaged father, but it leads to a more confident dad as well. Fathers who spend more time with their kids report having more confidence as parents.

Paternity leave programs are also extremely beneficial to mothers by enabling them to continue advancing in their own careers.

Studies of paternity leave programs in Quebec and Sweden found that programs led to a better balance of household duties and higher wage increases for women. That’s a major plus considering a quarter of women who take leave end up quitting or are let go.

The business community tends to be the biggest opponents of paid leave programs, and it is true that there are short-term costs for employers who cover employees taking leave.

However, there is evidence that suggests there are long-term benefits for businesses.

A survey in California found 91 percent of firms said paid family leave had a positive or neutral effect on profitability and employee performance, and 89 percent said the same of productivity. It also helped increase employee retention resulting in an estimated savings of $89 million.

Considering the clear benefits paid family leave provides dads, mothers, children, employers and employees, it is indefensible that the U.S. doesn’t offer better programs. However, the new laws in California and New York are major steps in the right direction.

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