Under new rules that will take effect in April 2015, fathers in the United Kingdom will have the same right to take a year off of work for a new baby that mothers currently have. Parents can share the leave of up to 50 weeks between them and will have the right to return to their jobs afterward. Any employers who offer more than the minimum to mothers will also now have to offer it to fathers.
Currently, British parents with children under the age of five also have the right to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave per parent per year, but that will also be expanded to people with children under age 18.
While mothers can take up to a year off, only 39 weeks of the leave is paid and not at their full salaries. Previously, fathers were entitled to one or two weeks paid time off. The shared 50 weeks of leave doesn’t include an extra two weeks reserved for mothers recovering from giving birth.
Under the old leave rules, only two-thirds of new fathers took some and less than half took the whole two weeks. Some were ineligible, but others couldn’t afford it.
Other countries have recognized that getting men to equally share in taking time off from work for a new child isn’t just about offering them the same amount of leave but also incentivizing or requiring them to take it. Sweden, for example, gives fathers up to 240 days of paid leave, but they have to take at least two months to get any paid leave or they forfeit the benefit. Eighty-five percent of fathers in the country take that leave.
In the U.S., neither parent is guaranteed paid time off for a new child, although both are equally guaranteed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with the ability to return to their jobs afterward. Only about 15 percent of men have access to paid leave through their employers. While 85 percent of new American fathers take leave, three-quarters of them take off one week or less.
That picture has changed in California, however, which has had a paid family leave policy since 2004. Only 35 percent of fathers in the state took leave before the program but three-quarters now take it. Men in the state went from taking less than a fifth of all leaves to taking about a third after the program was in place. They now take an average of three weeks, a number that could increase with more awareness of the policy — 70 percent of Californians don’t know that the leave is available to them.
Two other states — New Jersey and Rhode Island — have joined California in offering a paid family leave program, and Connecticut is currently studying the feasibility of doing the same. The Center for American Progress has proposed a nationwide policy called Social Security Cares, which would allow all workers to pay into a paid family leave program.