Calvin Lee took three weeks off from his pharmacy job in Salt Lake County to care for his wife, who had a difficult birth with their son.
Even before the emergency Cesarean section, Lee had planned to take time with his family "because every moment of a baby’s life is irreplaceable. If you miss it, you miss it. And I didn’t want to miss anything."
Exceeding the mandates
Utah and 17 other states get a failing grade for laws governing workplace rights for new fathers. Several states offer private-sector workers at least one of the following benefits beyond those mandated by federal law:
Paid sick leave » Available to both men and women
Flexible sick leave » Workers who earn paid sick days may also care for family members
Paid family leave » Applies to both men and women
Family leave » More unpaid, job-protected days than what is federally mandated
Unpaid leave » Workers are permitted to care for children of domestic or civil union partners or same-sex spouses
Source: National Partnership for Women & Families
Although it’s common for new fathers to take time off, an analysis released for Father’s Day shows that 32 other states do more than Utah in protecting families’ economic security when a new child arrives.
Utah is named among 18 states that draw a failing grade for doing nothing beyond what federal law requires to offer new fathers leave from work.
The report was commissioned by the National Partnership for Women & Families, which helped draft the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, requiring large employers to provide job-protection and unpaid family leave.
The law allows for 12 weeks of job-guaranteed time off from work, but it is unpaid and employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt, eliminating a large percentage of workers.
Lee said the three weeks he took off work gave him time to become at ease with son Logan, now 2.
"I didn’t know exactly what to expect," said Lee. "At first every one of his noises was upsetting. I had never even baby-sat before."
Research commissioned by the National Partnership shows that fathers who take leave are more likely to be involved in a child’s direct care longer term. Controlling for other related factors, fathers who have access to leave also are less likely to receive public assistance and food stamps in the year after a child’s birth than fathers who do not take time off.
"Our analysis shows that it is critically necessary to have policies to protect families, particularly now when both parents often are in the workplace," said Vicki Shabo, the group’s director of Work and Family Programs. "Sadly, political parties claim the mantle of family values, yet our public and workplace policies are failing too many working parents."
Only 14 states and the District of Columbia are moving beyond federal mandates to help new fathers who work in the private sector.
California and New Jersey lead the nation by providing paid family leave insurance to both mothers and fathers. Connecticut and the District of Columbia are the only two jurisdictions that guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days for leave. And Oregon, Washington and Hawaii are among the states that have expanded access to unpaid, job-protected leave for workers not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Unlike Utah, 18 states have laws in place that protect new mothers or state employees, according to the report, "Dads Expect Better: Top States for New Dads."
Utah also was absent from the list of eight states and the District of Columbia that guarantee eligible workers job-protected unpaid leave to attend meetings and activities at their child’s school. Western states included in that list were California, Colorado and Nevada.
Although the family-friendly policies are often framed as a women’s issue, men also have a need for policies that allow them to care for their families without sacrificing their economic security, said Lecia Parks Langston, an economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
"We still don’t seem to think of child care as a family issue," she said. "But 60 percent of the homes in Utah with children under 18 are those in which both parents work."
Despite federal protections for unpaid leave, the economic downturn is taking its toll on families. Fewer employers are allowing workers to take career breaks for reasons such as personal and family responsibilities, down from 73 percent in 2005 to 52 percent today, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Families and Work Institute.
"More fathers are wanting to spend time with their families at the same time that companies are cutting back," said Institute President Ellen Galinsky. "There’s a mismatch between what men want for their lives and what their companies are giving."
Lee counts himself lucky. At the time of his son’s birth his company granted paid leave — which has now been dropped.
U.S. policies for new fathers lag behind those of other countries, according to the National Partnership, which worked for nine years to get the Family and Medical Leave Act passed. At least 66 countries ensure that fathers either receive or have a right to paid leave when a new child arrives; and 31 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave.
Among 21 highly developed countries, the United States ranks near the middle by guaranteeing fathers 12 weeks of unpaid leave — but only about half of the American workforce is eligible and many cannot afford to take the unpaid leave the federal law provides.Next Page >
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