Utah companies rethink paid paternity leave

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A father reads a story to his child. Paid paternal leave is becoming more common among Utah businesses. (Unsplash)

Four-year-old Anna Heywood happily pats her mom’s belly in anticipation of a new baby brother.

Expecting a baby often fills families with joy and hopefulness, but it can also stir up anxiety surrounding paternity leave — especially for fathers living in Utah.

Along with 43 other states, Utah law doesn’t mandate any paid parental leave, landing many parents in a tight financial situation.

In the absence of paternity leave laws, Utahns are subject to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act which affords qualifying employees up to 12 weeks unpaid leave without threat of job loss.

In order to qualify, an employee must have worked a minimum of 1,240 hours over the preceding 12 months at a company that employs more than 50 people. Unfortunately, the highly-specific qualifications exclude more than 40% of the American workforce, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Many of the parents who do qualify can’t afford to take days or weeks off without pay. Fathers especially can feel pressure to keep working. According to a 2019 study by Statista, men are much less likely to take unpaid time off than women, and many are unwilling to take paternity leave unless it’s fully paid.

One reason fathers may resist taking time off is due to the social pressure they feel at work. Dave Heywood, a Utah native and soon-to-be father of four, said his law firm prioritized work above family.

“When my daughter was born, the partner asked if I could take paternity leave a month later since we were in the middle of some big deals,” Heywood said.

Some Utah companies, however, are increasing paternity benefits beyond what the FMLA requires. Weave, a company based in Lehi, offers its employees 100% paid paternity leave for up to six weeks. Similarly, Vivint, which also has a Lehi office, offers two weeks paid paternity leave.

Isaac Reichner, a Utah resident whose first child is now a toddler, was offered six weeks of paid paternal leave when his son was born. Reichner said he recognizes that such company cooperation is new to the workforce.

“Some older family friends I have from my hometown in Montana have jokingly given me a hard time, only because in their day, paternity leave wasn’t really a thing,” Reichner said. “If they didn’t work, food wasn’t on the table.”

Reichner said he respects older generations for their “hard-working, non-entitled mentality,” but he is also grateful for more the generous paternity leave options that some companies offer today.

Utah laws may also be modernizing. Elizabeth Weight proposed to amend parental leave law with the Family Leave Amendments bill in 2019 and 2020. The bill aims to “require executive branch agencies and departments and higher education employers to provide eligible employees certain paid parental leave.”

The most recent version of the bill failed in the 2020 Legislature. Lawmakers did pass a bill, SB207, that does allow paid post-partum recovery leave for women employed by state agencies who have given birth. The Legislature has allocated $507,000 annually to cover the costs.

Despite benefits like spending time with family and adjusting to a new normal, both Heywood and Reichner said they believe the amount of paid paternity leave should be determined by companies, not the government.

“This is an example in which the competitive market creates the most efficient outcome,” Reichner said. “Companies compete for employees through pay, benefits (including parental leave) and a host of other things. Government intervention would limit employers and employees.”

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