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Parental Leave & Employees' Legal Rights

HR & Compliance

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Updated on:
April 1, 2024
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Updated on :

April 1, 2024
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Parental Leave & Employees' Legal Rights

The balance between professional responsibilities and personal milestones, such as becoming a parent, has taken center stage in the contemporary workforce. This has increased the focus on parental leave policies, ensuring new parents are supported and celebrated. Delving into parental leave, we will illuminate the differences between paternity and maternity leave and underscore their collective importance.

Parental Leave: An Overview

Parental leave is an umbrella term encompassing both maternity and paternity leave. This paid leave facilitates parents dedicating time to bond with their new child or newly adopted child, fostering a nurturing environment without the constant looming shadow of work-related commitments. The federal government is also recognizing the importance of such leaves.

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Maternity Leave: A Holistic Approach to Motherhood

Maternity leave, or in some contexts, paid maternity leave, transcends mere physical recovery post-childbirth. It's a period that allows a mother - or pregnant woman- to transition into her new role harmoniously. This encompasses physical recuperation, emotional bonding, and mentally adapting to the demands of motherhood. Paid family leave, or Maternity leave, plays a pivotal role in ensuring new mothers can focus on their children while rejuvenating themselves.

Discover maternity leave around the world in 2023 in this comprehensive article

Paternity Leave: Reinventing Fatherhood

Paternity leave, often overshadowed by its maternity counterpart, champions the time a father takes off after welcoming a new child, either through birth or adoption. Its significance is witnessing a renaissance of sorts. Modern fatherhood, including same-sex parents, calls for active participation, and paternity leave allows fathers to establish an early connection with their children and offer unwavering support to their partners.

Paternity Leave vs. Maternity Leave: The Core Difference

In the realm of workplace policies and rights, few topics garner as much attention and discussion as paternity leave and maternity leave. Both are critical components of the broader parental leave programs, but they cater to different genders and serve slightly varied purposes. The following are the differences between the paid family leave policies, emphasizing their significance in promoting a balanced, inclusive work environment.

Read more on sabbatical leave here.

Purpose and Duration

Maternity Leave: This leave primarily focuses on the mother's physical recovery after childbirth and the initial bonding with the baby. Consequently, the duration of maternity leave is often longer than paternity leave, considering the medical needs associated with childbirth. Some organizations even offer up to eight weeks.

Paternity Leave: While fathers don't undergo childbirth, the importance of bonding time, emotional adjustment, and partner support through paid family leave cannot be understated. Though traditionally shorter than maternity leave, there's a growing push for equalizing the lengths of both paid leaves. In many jurisdictions, paternity leave is usually an unpaid leave.

Cultural Perception:

Maternity Leave: Historically, women have been the primary caregivers. Thus, many global workplace policies have long acknowledged and implemented maternity leave. Paid parental leave has been a growing trend, offering support to new mothers.

Paternity Leave: Cultural shifts and evolving views on shared parenting responsibilities have brought more attention to paternity leave. However, some cultures' stigmas around "fatherhood" may still impact its acceptance and utilization.

Economic Impacts:

Maternity Leave: Extended maternity leaves can sometimes lead to employment gaps for women, potentially affecting their career trajectories and earning potential.

Paternity Leave: Promoting paid paternity leave can help balance the scales, reducing gender disparities in workplaces and encouraging shared parenting duties.

Recognizing the difference between paternity and maternity leave is crucial, but it's equally important for workplaces to offer both. The federal paid family initiative is also taking shape. Here’s why:

  1. Promotes Gender Equality: By offering both types of leave, usually a job-protected leave, workplaces send out a clear message that both parents and even family members, including an immediate family member, are equally important in a child’s life.
  2. Supports Mental Well-being: The early days of parenthood can be overwhelming. Providing ample paid time off and sometimes FMLA leave ensures better mental well-being for both parents.
  3. Boosts Employee Loyalty: Employees value organizations that prioritize their life events. Companies can ensure a stronger, more loyal workforce by offering parental leave.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a cornerstone of legislation ensuring job protection for eligible employees during specific family and medical situations. However, while FMLA offers unpaid parental leave, there's been a growing push towards more comprehensive paid family policies. But what exactly does the FMLA entail? This guide delves deep into its provisions, benefits, and how it impacts employees and employers.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

Enacted in 1993, the FMLA is a U.S. labor law that provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, job-protected leave per year. This act ensures that eligible employees, including new mothers and fathers, can take time off for qualified medical and family reasons without fear of losing their jobs.

Who is Covered by FMLA?

Employers: Public agencies, including local, state, and federal government employers, and public and private elementary and secondary schools are covered under FMLA. Paid family leave is a separate benefit that some employers may offer. Private sector employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more work weeks in the current or preceding calendar year are also covered.

Employees: To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must:

  • Work for a covered employer.
  • Have worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of the leave.
  • Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
  • Have worked for the employer for 12 months.

Reasons to Take Leave Under FMLA

Eligible employees can take leave for:

  • Birth of a new child and bonding with the newborn.
  • Adoption or fostering of a child.
  • To care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition.
  • Personal serious health conditions impeding the employee's ability to work.
  • Any qualifying exigency due to a family member being on active military duty.

Benefits of the Family and Medical Leave Act

Job Protection: An employee on FMLA leave is entitled to return to the same position or an equivalent role with the same pay, benefits, and terms of employment. If an employer has a paid family leave policy, paid time during FMLA leave can be offered.

Continuation of Health Benefits: Health insurance must be maintained during the leave period as if the employee were still working, making paid parental leave more accessible to some.

Protection Against Retaliation: Employers cannot retaliate against employees who take or request FMLA leave.

The Interplay with Other Leave Policies

It's crucial to note that FMLA leave is unpaid. However, employees can choose, or employers may require them to use accrued paid vacations, personal or sick leave to cover some or all of the FMLA leave period.

Protection Under Multiple Parental Leave Laws

In the constantly evolving landscape of employee rights, federal paid family and parental leave policies stand out as a testament to the growing recognition of work-life balance. The interplay can become complex with countries and states implementing their unique laws. How does one navigate these overlapping laws?

Understanding Parental Leave Laws

Parental leave laws allow employees to take a break from work to care for and bond with a new child, whether through birth, adoption, or fostering. The specifics—duration, pay, which might be for eight weeks or more and eligibility criteria—can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Protection Across Different Jurisdictions

Federal vs. State Laws:

In countries like the US, there's a federal parental leave law known as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Simultaneously, individual states might have their additional provisions, sometimes offering more generous benefits.

When federal and state laws overlap, employees are generally entitled to the most beneficial aspects of both.

International Considerations:

Many multinational corporations operate in countries with varying parental leave mandates. It's crucial for these companies to be familiar with and adhere to local laws while also considering their global policies.

International entities like the European Union also have overarching directives that member countries must follow, but individual countries might offer more extensive protections.

Navigating Multiple Protections

  1. Educate Yourself: Knowledge is power. Familiarize yourself with both the broader, federal or international mandates and any specific regional or state laws that apply to you.
  2. Consult with HR: Human Resource departments should have comprehensive knowledge of the company's obligations under multiple parental leave laws. Seek guidance on how these overlapping laws might benefit you.
  3. Document Everything: Maintain records of any communications related to your leave, including dates, durations, and any other pertinent details. This documentation can be invaluable if any disputes arise.
  4. Stay Updated: Parental leave laws can change, with new regulations introduced or existing ones amended. Regularly check for updates to ensure you’re leveraging all available benefits.

5 ways parental leave benefits families

Parental leave has become crucial in workplace policies and family dynamics discussions. The benefits of parental leave have become more apparent with increasing emphasis on job security, workplace health, and recognizing the rights of birth mothers and expectant mothers. In an era that values work-life balance and recognizes the importance of early childhood development, parental leave is not just a necessity but a fundamental right. Let's explore the top 5 ways parental leave benefits families, highlighting its transformative impact on households across the globe.

Fostering Parent-Child Bonding

The early weeks of a child's birth are pivotal for emotional and psychological bonding. Parental leave allows both mothers and fathers to spend quality time with their newborns, fostering a sense of security, attachment, and love that serves as the foundation for healthy future relationships.

Supporting Physical and Emotional Recovery

Childbirth can be physically demanding, and the postpartum period often requires significant recovery time. Parental leave gives mothers time to recuperate and regain their strength. Additionally, new parents may experience a whirlwind of emotions, from joy to anxiety. Time off from work allows parents to navigate these feelings and adjust to their new roles without the added stress of professional responsibilities.

Enhancing Child's Early Development

Research has consistently shown that attentive care during the first few months of a child's life plays a crucial role in their cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development. By providing parents with time to nurture, interact, and stimulate their newborns, parental leave directly contributes to a child's long-term development and future success.

Encouraging Equal Parenting Responsibilities

Parental leave policies that include both mothers and fathers promote shared parenting responsibilities. Paternity leave, in particular, allows fathers to be actively involved in the early stages of childcare, breaking down traditional gender roles and encouraging a more equitable division of duties. This shared approach fosters a balanced family dynamic and strengthens relationships between partners.

Reducing Financial Stress

Depending on the region and workplace policies, parental leave may be paid, partially paid, or unpaid. In paid or partially paid leave, financial support can significantly reduce the burden on families, allowing parents to focus on their newborns without the immediate pressure of returning to work. This financial stability contributes to a more relaxed, nurturing environment for the child and reduces stress for the parents.

Offer Benefits Your Employees Will Love With Skuad

Parental leave is a testament to the evolving workplace culture that values professional growth and personal milestones. It's a benefit that underscores the symbiotic relationship between employees' well-being and organizational success.

By offering a comprehensive Employer of Record platform, Skuad enables organizations to seamlessly manage and offer benefits that employees genuinely cherish, such as parental leave, across over 160 countries. With us, ensure compliance with country-specific employment laws and tax regulations and take the guesswork and legal intricacies out of the equation. Skuad doesn't just stop at hiring; it embraces the entire employment lifecycle, allowing businesses to scale confidently, reduce administrative hassles, and have unparalleled HR excellence. If parental leave reflects an organization's commitment to its workforce, then platforms like Skuad are the tools that make this commitment tangible and effortless.

To know more about Skuad, schedule a demo today.


How long is parental leave in us?

Parental leave in the US is limited to only 12 work weeks and may be utilized during the 12-month pregnancy starting from birth.

Who is eligible for parental leave in the US?

Employees eligible for parental leave must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. 

About the author

Catalina Wang is a Human Resource Consultant. She manages recruitment, onboarding, and contract administration staffing for many organizations and remote teams. She’s passionate about efficient HR management and the impact of tech on hiring practices.

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