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Do You Have to Offer Paternity Leave?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

A new father's bundle of joy means new responsibilities for him, and a potential bundle of legal questions for you as an employer: Do you have to offer paternity leave, and does it have to be paid?

For small businesses, the answers depend on how many employees you have and where your employees live.

If you employ at least 50 people within a 75-mile radius, your business must abide by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires unpaid paternity leave.

Under the FMLA, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks off, without pay, for family- and medical-related reasons including paternity leave. (In general, a new father is eligible if he's worked for you at least 12 months, and has put in at least 1,250 hours over the previous year.)

There are exceptions, however: for example, if the new father is among the top 10% of wage-earners and you can prove his absence would cause you significant economic harm, you don't have to keep his job open under the FMLA, according to the website

Though many small businesses must offer FMLA paternity leave, only 22% of new fathers take advantage of it -- mainly because it's unpaid, according to this infographic comparing paternity leave practices around the world.

Aside from the FMLA, some state laws may require you to offer paternity leave. In California, for example, new fathers get 55% of weekly wages for up to six weeks. In New Jersey, it's 66% for up to six weeks. And in Washington state, new fathers get $250 a week for up to five weeks.

Laws also cover what happens to a new father's benefits when he's on paternity leave, and other issues. If you have questions about the law, of if you're facing legal action by an employee over paternity leave, a local employment attorney can help make sure you're on the right side of the law.

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