Equal Opportunity Parental Leave: Dads Can Also Stay Home With Baby

Equal Opportunity Parental Leave: Dads Can Also Stay Home With Baby

When it comes to accommodating working parents, Americans are far behind the times.

In fact, the U.S. is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn't require companies to offer paid maternity leave. The offerings for paternity leave are even more disappointing—but an updated set of guidelines by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may change that.

Included in the new guidelines, which are meant to combat discrimination against pregnant women, is an additional policy regarding parental leave: If an employer offers new mothers the opportunity to care for their babies, it must now offer equal paid leave to new fathers. (Medical leave related to pregnancy is not given to fathers.)

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Don't get too excited, though. At this point, only 14% of companies offer paid parental leave to moms or dads, down from 2008's 16%, and many only pay partial salaries during that time.

At this point, it's still unclear whether men would actually take the opportunity to stay home and care for their kids. On the one hand, 86% of men in a 2014 Boston College Center for Work and Family study said they would take advantage of paid leave so long as they received 70% of their salary. On the other hand, there's also evidence that many new dads hesitate to use any time off from work, out of fear that they'll seem uncommitted to their jobs, among other reasons.

Even when fathers do take time off, they're often still connected to the office. Only 18% of men in the Boston College survey said they stopped working altogether during their parental leave.

One potential reason why fathers are reluctant to take a break is that many face discrimination upon returning to the workplace. As journalist Josh Levs told the Washington Post, "When men come back from taking parental leave, they're often treated worse by their colleagues and their bosses. ... They're demoted or given less work." More and more companies face lawsuits from fathers for wrongful termination and other discrimination charges.

The new guidelines may make employers more inclined to grant fathers time to care for their kids—and more tolerant when they return with an album full of new-baby photos to share.

RELATED: Beat Wage Discrimination: How Women Can Get Paid as Much as Male Colleagues

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