A new Massachusetts law will allow new fathers to take eight weeks off around the birth or adoption of a child.
The law expands the job protection afforded under two existing laws: the state’s maternity leave act and the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Once the new law takes effect, on April 7, the state’s parental leave laws will be gender-neutral, offering 8 weeks of unpaid leave to birth mothers, fathers and adoptive parents. And that coverage will apply to employees of businesses with six or more employees – a far broader reach than FMLA, which applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees.
Supporters of the bill say the new law is an apropos modernization of parental leave, and reflective of evolving views on fatherhood and changing dynamics of working families.
“I think most people think it’s good to have two parents, and to give families a chance to bond and work together,” said Pat Jehlen, the democratic state senator who sponsored the bill, according to MassLive.com. “It doesn’t mean all men will do it, but many would like to have some time to be with their baby and their wife.”
News of Massachusetts’s expanded parental leave program comes just days after President Obama and the White House unveiled proposals to broaden access to paid leave and modernize parental leave on a federal level.
Under the plans President Obama outlined last week, efforts to modernize federal parental leave policies included extending paid leave to new moms, dads and adoptive parents, as well as directing agencies to provide access to emergency backup care for children, seniors and adults with disabilities as employee benefits.
Paternity leave, and modern fatherhood in general, has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Research, such as the Boston College Center for Work and Family’s “The New Dad” studies, has highlighted an increased demand for paternity leave and awareness around the long-term benefits that having time to bond with a newborn can have for new fathers and their families.
Public perception is changing, but programs and policies are slow to catch up.
Currently, 29 percent of men have no access to leave of any kind for the birth of a child, and only about 15 percent of organizations offer any kind of formal paid paternity leave program, according to a 2014 report on The Economics of Fatherhood and Work by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors.
Of new dads without access to paid leave, 75 percent take less than a week off work following the birth of their child, while 16 percent don’t take a single day. Taking time off around the birth of a new child can be a challenge even for fathers with access to paid leave.
Work-life balance, or integration, remains the modern dad’s dilemma. Research has shown fathers are spending more time on childcare and household chores than previous generations – and they want to – but they’re still feeling the pull of professional responsibilities.
Read more about The Modern Dad’s Struggle to Juggle Work and Family
The good news is: We’re starting to understand that fathers involved at home leads to more gender equality in the workplace, and that supporting working families is an economic imperative.
Yes, the U.S. is still the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer paid leave for new moms, but state and federal lawmakers are working to modernize leave policies. Massachusetts has been a leader other family-oriented law changes, including same sex marriage and universal health coverage. Perhaps this is another area where is the Commonwealth can be a harbinger of change. (In fact, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have already led the way with statewide paid leave policies.)
And business leaders, recognizing the business benefits of supporting working families, are using progressive parental leave programs to attract and retain top talent and drive their bottom lines.
What do you think? If offered 8 weeks of unpaid parental leave, how much would you take? How do you think companies will react to this?