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Should You Offer Time Off to Fathers of Newborns?

Here are four questions to consider as you debate instituting a paternity leave policy.
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Many small businesses offer some type of maternity leave. However, as gender and parenting roles continue to evolve in our society, more fathers are asking for time off to bond with their newborns. Large companies may include paternity leave in their benefit portfolio, but should small organizations follow suit? As with most questions like this, there are pros and cons.

First, let’s discuss “must” and then we’ll consider “should.” If an employer has 50 or more employees, the business may be subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA requires that parents of a newborn or those adopting or fostering a child receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid time-off to care for and bond with the child, if the parent has been with the company for at least one year and has worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months. 

If your head is spinning, you are not alone. If you think your company may need to comply with the FMLA, we strongly suggest seeking the advice of counsel or a qualified HR professional.

Related: The Ins and Outs of Creating a Parental Leave Policy

Now onto the “should.” The reason to offer any benefit not mandated by the government is to attract and retain the best people. Obviously, it is a judgment call, but we suggest considering the following questions:

1. What can you afford? Paternity leave, whether it is paid or unpaid comes with a cost. Make sure that you understand how employee absences would affect your business. In doing your calculation, remember that there may be some degree of adverse selection. That is, those who expect to use the benefit will be attracted to your company. Those who don’t expect to use it are more likely to be indifferent. Therefore, you may end up with more than your fair share of expectant fathers. Make sure that you understand the cost and that you can afford the expense.

2. What do your employees value? Now that you understand the costs, consider the benefit side of the equation. Surveying employees is a useful way to get a sense of the things they value most. You only have so many dollars to spend on benefits, so make sure you are offering those benefits most appreciated by your employees.

Related: How to Handle Multiple Employees Having Babies All At Once

3. Does your company’s culture and environment help you attract and retain the talent you need? One of the benefits, which will be difficult to quantify but should not be ignored, is the impact on your company’s culture. We asked Rush Paul, a well-known and experienced HR consultant to comment.

“Employees are attracted to join and stay with companies whose values are consistent with their own and where the employee believes he or she can be successful," he says. "If the values you seek to reflect in your employment brand include an effective work/life balance, don’t forget the men in your company. If being identified as a diverse and inclusive organization is important, create policies that are as gender neutral as possible. In either case, including a paternity leave policy is part of the equation. As you create your paternity policy, be sure to plan for how you intend to address adoption, same-sex partners, leave before birth or adoption (not just after), and additional unpaid versus paid leave.”

4. What do your competitors offer? If other organizations, with which you compete for employees, offer this benefit it may be something that employees expect. If you don’t offer it, you will be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. It’s a judgment call that, depending on your circumstances, could go either way. But, the four questions above will help to refine your thinking.

Related: Modern Dad? Prince William to Take Two Weeks of Paternity Leave.