For many new and soon-to-be fathers, the stigma of paternity leave is one they wrestle with—and often lose to. While social scientists have shown the benefits (tangible and intangible) of paternity leave, the elephant in the room remains: As one New York Times essay put it,

“Taking time off for family obligations, including paternity leave, could have long-term negative effects on a man’s career — like lower pay or being passed over for promotions.”

In this article, we’ll take a look at the current state of paternity leave across the United States and forecast what may be on the horizon for paternal leave in the future.

The Current State Of Paternity Leave In The U.S.

The Written Rules

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents (both maternity and paternity leave). It does not require paid leave–about 14% of companies that do offer paid paternity leave do so by choice. The U.S. remains the only developed country that doesn’t require paid parental leave.

And, to make matters worse, this 2014 National Study of Employers shows that 20% of companies that are supposed to comply with the law still don’t offer paternity leave.

So, what gives?

The Unwritten Rules

Especially with paternity leave, fathers feel the crunch when taking off time to be with their newly born (or adopted) children.

“Our workplace culture, and the male breadwinner norm, is a barrier for men seeking to take more extended paternity leaves. Even where men have access to paid leave, they might still cut their leaves short to avoid being perceived as less dedicated employees.” – Paternity Leave: Why Parental Leave For Fathers Is So Important For Working Families

In addition to the intangibles of taking paternity leave, many fathers face the harsh (tangible) reality that they simply cannot afford to take unpaid time off, especially if the mother of the child is also taking unpaid time off. With unpaid family leave as the standard, fathers generally get the least opportunity to take time off.

States With The Best Paternity Leave Rules & Policies

Currently, these are the only four states that offer paid family and medical leave:

  • California
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

(New York joined effective Jan. 1, 2018, after passing the Paid Family Leave Benefits Law during the 2016 session.) All four state programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and administered through their respective disability programs.

The future of paternity leave—how should employers proceed?

Despite companies expanding the amount of leave they offer employees, paternity leave has showed little growth, up slightly from 10.6 weeks in 2012 to 11 weeks in 2016. (Society of Human Resource Management)

However, a younger workforce with different values may cause a shift in current paternity leave climate—and thus, the attitudes and actions of employers. As identified in this article, Ernst & Young’s global generational survey of 9,700 people found the following (not-so-surprising) results:

  • Millennials value parental leave more than earlier generations. Eighty-three percent of American millennials said they would be more likely to join a company offering benefits like paternity leave.
  • Thirty-eight percent of millennials said they would even move from the United States to another country with better leave policies.

We should anticipate that newer generations of workers will expect paternity leave benefits more frequently than the generations previous; forward-thinking employers should begin to strategize now about how they can offer these benefits and added flexibility in the workplace in a cost-effective way—partnering with a PEO can help.