What Is Parental Leave?

Parental leave is the time parents and caregivers take off work to care for children or a new baby. Parental leave policies vary by country and company, so understanding the regulations and available resources can help employees access benefits and employers stay compliant.

What Type of Leave Is Parental?

Parental leave can be paid or unpaid.

The United States is one of the only developed countries that doesn’t offer nationwide paid parental or family leave. Most unpaid parental leaves fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides employees with unpaid, job-protected leave within the first year of a child being born or adopted. FMLA parental leave can also apply to employees who need to care for children with serious health conditions for an extended time.

Increasingly, states are offering paid parental leave, which is funded by employee-paid payroll taxes. Individual employers can also offer paid parental leave benefits, like maternity and paternity leave.

What Is the Purpose of Parental Leave?

Parental leave extends maternity and paternity leave or gives parents time off to care for their children. The goal of parental leave is to give employees of all genders a chance to balance family responsibilities with their careers and take the needed time to strengthen family relationships. This helps employees come back to work refreshed and engaged.

What Is Parental Leave Vs. Maternity Leave?

Only adoptive or female birth mothers can take time off for maternity leave. Parental leave is available equally to mothers and fathers. Maternity leave typically occurs in the weeks and months following the birth or adoption of a child, but most parental leave is available to employees within the first year of a child’s birth or adoption. Some employers offer both maternity or paternity leave and parental leave, meaning a mother could take maternity leave followed by parental leave.

Do You Get Paid for Parental Leave?

Some states and employers provide paid parental leave as a comprehensive benefits package and pay employees their full salaries throughout their parental leave.

When paid parental leave isn’t available, employees can access up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave through FMLA.

However, FMLA isn’t available to every employee. An estimated 44 percent of U.S. employees don’t qualify for FMLA benefits. In those cases, employees needing parental leave have to use their paid sick and vacation time to care for their children.

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What Does Parental Leave Mean?

Parental leave allows employees to temporarily step away from their roles (typically for around 12 weeks) and return to their position.

What's the Difference Between Parental Leave and Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave is limited to birth or adoptive mothers, meaning only female employees can access these benefits. Parental leave offers equal benefits to mothers and fathers and allows for greater gender equality and time to participate in and share child care responsibilities.

Why Is Parental Leave Important?

Parental leave allows employees to:

Research links parental leave, especially paid parental leave, to better employee mental health, increased gender equality as fathers participate in child care duties, and increased mental, physical, and emotional benefits for children and the entire family.

Parental leave can also help attract and retain employees. When employers show they value and support employees’ families, this gives employees peace of mind and job security, as they care for a new baby or a child’s medical emergency.

How Does Parental Leave Pay Work?

Most employers allow their employees to take paid or unpaid time off after a child is born or adopted. Before taking parental leave, the employee must notify their employer and complete any required paperwork. This could include deciding on a date to return to work or agreeing to remain with the company for a certain period after the leave is complete.

Parental leave is a leave of absence from the company, meaning the employee isn’t required to communicate with their employer or complete work during that time. If taking parental leave under FMLA or other programs, the employee is guaranteed to have their job when their leave is done.

Employees who receive paid parental leave typically receive their full weekly pay for their time off, excluding overtime or bonuses.