New generation of fathers seek fair parental leave policies

Most new dads do not get offered time off; those that do get about half what new moms get

By Heather Cobun
BridgeTower Media Newswires
 
BALTIMORE, MD — Paid time off to care for a new child is an increasingly important benefit to the current generation of fathers in the workforce, but it remains common for companies with paternity leave to offer half as much paid time off to dads compared to moms.

Twelve weeks of paid time off for new mothers and six weeks for fathers is a common policy, according to Del. Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, which can send the message to men that their presence at home with a newborn is not as important.

“It’s easier for people to understand why the mother might need to be home but once you start hearing from fathers why they want to be home, it’s impossible to ignore,” said Kelly, an advocate for paid family and medical leave. “We’re seeing these types of things, fatherhood is different now than it was 30 years ago.”

Kelly said men are sometimes reluctant to take paternity leave, which could be because they’ve observed women face some kind of retaliation when they take time off to have a baby.

“The ‘mommy track’ is a very real thing and when women take off when they have children they’re punished for it and men see that,” she said.

Neil Murray, a Baltimore architect, took two weeks of paid leave offered by his then-employer when both of his daughters, now age 5 and 3, were born. Murray said he was glad to find it was an option but wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I think it was kind of nerve wracking the first time you ask for it,” he said.

The company respected his boundaries as far as how available he could be during that time, according to Murray, and by the time his second child was born he knew the process and elected to split his time between the office and home.

“It’s such a big change in your life and your lifestyle, it’s nice to be able to make that transition,” he said.

Most organizations do not offer time off for new dads, and those that do give them about half of what new moms get, according to a recent survey of more than 300 organizations from the Society of Human Resource Management. New moms receive an average of 41 paid days off, compared with 22 days for dads. When given the benefit, many men take some time off, but usually not more than 10 days. That's just half the time they're offered, on average, according to a survey by Boston College.

University of Baltimore School of Law professor Nancy Modesitt said employers understand that women need at least some time off for medical reasons. But some employers, particularly older ones, question the need for a new father to be at home.

“It’s always hard to be the first person,” she said.

Advance notice and flexibility are key to making the transition a smooth one, according to Modesitt, when jobs allow for it.

Kelly said her advocacy has shown her how many young men, many of whom don’t even have children yet, want to be able to be home with their new children.

“They want their role as fathers to be equal in society,” she said.

Kelly proposed a bill earlier this year in the General Assembly to create a state insurance fund to pay employees for leave taken to deal with a family or medical issue, including a new child.

“We had a tremendous amount of support,” she said. “There’s no question that this is something that we need to be doing and the devil’s in the details.”

A task force was formed as a result of that legislation and Kelly said legislation may be introduced by 2018.

Most recently, Maryland’s Family and Medical Leave Act was expanded in 2014 to cover more employees and allow them to take unpaid leave without losing their jobs. The law applies equally to men and women for an array of situations, from the birth or adoption of a child to a sick parent.

Allowing employees to be paid during that time will help the state save on other programs, according to Kelly, because people will rely less on assistance programs.

The program will look to models like California and Rhode Island, which have implemented statewide paid leave and treat both genders equally, according to Kelly.

“That’s a really important principal,” she said. “There are lots of families with different compositions in Maryland and we know that fathers need the ability to take time off and they need to be able to be paid to do so.”

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