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Paternity Leave Under FMLA: Eligibility & Benefits Explained

Some employees have access to paid parental leave through their job or a state family leave program. Employees who don’t may still qualify for paternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Although FMLA leave is unpaid leave, it offers job protection and other key benefits for up to 12 weeks in any 12-month period.

Here’s what you need to know about taking paternity leave under FMLA, and whether there are any differences between paternity and maternity leave.

What Is FMLA Leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that gives eligible employees the right to take leave for certain qualifying reasons. These include:

  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • The placement of a child in foster care
  • Caring for an ill or injured family member
  • Treating an employee’s own serious health condition
  • Addressing a qualifying exigency related to military service

Paternity leave isn’t the only reason an employee can take FMLA leave, but it’s one of the main types of leave that’s covered by the act.

Who Is Eligible for Paternity Leave Under FMLA?

FMLA is gender-neutral, so there’s no difference between maternity and paternity leave under FMLA. Both parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave.

In addition to being a new parent, employees must meet the following conditions, as outlined in Fact Sheet #28 at

  • Must have worked for their employer for at least a year
  • Must have performed 1,250 hours of work within the last year
  • Must be employed at a worksite with at least 50 other employees (within a 75-mile radius)

Both full-time and part-time employees are eligible to take paternity leave under FMLA if they meet these requirements. The year of employment doesn’t have to be consecutive, so seasonal employees may be eligible to take time off work too.

Which Employers Must Offer Paternity Leave?

Not all employers are required to provide paternity leave, only “covered employers” under FMLA. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a covered employer as:

  • State, federal, and local government agencies
  • Primary and secondary schools (public or private)
  • Private employers with at least 50 employees on their payroll

Smaller employers may be exempt, but they may still be bound by state leave laws, or choose to implement a paid leave policy of their own as an employee benefit.

What Are the Benefits of Paternity Leave Under FMLA?

Employees are required to provide 30 days’ notice of paternity leave when possible, and they may have to provide documentation from a health care provider (if applicable). In return, new dads get access to the following benefits:

  • Job protection: Employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to return to the same job or an equivalent one after the leave period ends.
  • Health insurance: Employees retain their health insurance while on leave, as long as they continue paying their portion of the premium.
  • Access to paid time off: Although FMLA leave isn’t paid, employees may be able to draw from their accrued sick leave or vacation leave balance.

How Long Is Paternity Leave Under FMLA?

Paternity leave FMLA: father happily feeding his child

Under FMLA, employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave for each qualifying condition, up to a maximum of 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period. New dads are entitled to take a full 12 weeks of parental leave, with certain limitations:

Must be taken within 1 year

When it comes to paternity leave, FMLA requires the leave period to end within one year after the arrival of a new child by birth, adoption, or foster care.

This means that employees can’t use their paternity leave benefits to care for an adult child — unless the child has a medical condition or disability, in which case the parent may be eligible to take FMLA leave to care for a sick family member.

Parents could also qualify for military caregiver leave if their child became ill or injured during military service. This type of leave has a 26-week maximum.

Must not exceed 12 weeks of leave

Although new parents can take leave each time they have a new child, they can’t take more than 12 weeks of leave in any 12-month period in total.

If an employee has already taken 3 weeks of FMLA leave for another reason, such as to treat their own serious health condition, that would be subtracted from their FMLA leave balance. They would have 9 weeks of paternity leave remaining in that period.

Does not (usually) apply during pregnancy

The FMLA leave period only begins after the birth of a child or the arrival of an adopted or foster child. It doesn’t typically apply during pregnancy. The exception is if there are medical complications during pregnancy. In that case, fathers may be eligible to start paternity leave early to care for their spouse.

Intermittent leave must be approved

New dads are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but they don’t have to take the full leave entitlement all at once. Employees are allowed to request intermittent leave and use paternity leave in smaller increments.

However, while employers must allow intermittent leave when there’s a medical reason for it, they have some discretion in whether or not to allow intermittent paternity leave.

Parents who work together share leave

Since both parents are eligible for leave, one parent could delay the start of FMLA leave until after the other one has finished.

This isn’t the case if they work for the same employer. In that case, they only get a total of 12 weeks of leave to split between them.

Is Paid Family Leave Available?

The Family and Medical Leave Act only provides for unpaid paternity leave, but paid family leave benefits are available in some states, such as New York, California, and Colorado. State laws usually have the same requirements as FMLA (or similar), and they run concurrently with FMLA, not back-to-back.

As an example, the Paid Family and Medical Leave program in Massachusetts provides up to 12 weeks of paid paternity leave. Eligible employees can receive up to $1,129.82 per week from the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML).

This program is administered like an unemployment insurance program, so it’s funded through a payroll contribution, not directly by the employer.

It’s available to a wide range of employees, including those who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for FMLA; even self-employed people can opt in.

Federal employees may also have access to paid parental leave under the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA). And of course, some private-sector employers choose to offer paid parental leave as an employee benefit.

Take the Stress Out of Paternity Leave Requests

Mom kissing her baby before she leaves for work

New dads can take up to 12 weeks of paternity leave to bond with a new child, with the same eligibility requirements and benefits as maternity leave. Fathers who take FMLA leave are entitled to keep their health insurance and return to the same position when they return to work. They may also be eligible for paid family leave in some states.

By digitizing the leave management process with Pulpstream, you’ll make it easy for new dads to submit a paternity leave request and upload any necessary paperwork. Plus, your human resources team can track their FMLA leave balance and ensure you’re complying with your obligations under state and federal law.

Get in touch today to request a demo and learn more!