Answer: The short answer is no. If you provide paid parental leave for female employees, you must provide male employees the same benefit.
Paid Parental Leave vs. Disability
When contemplating providing paid leave for new parents, there are two sides you should consider: medical disability, and bonding with/caring for the child. Payments while a female employee is temporarily disabled (whether during pregnancy or while recovering after the birth) typically come from a short-term disability policy or paid sick leave. If a pregnant employee brings in a doctor’s note for a disability accommodation due to a pregnancy-related issue, you must treat the situation as you would any other disability.
Equal Paid Parental Leave
Paid parental leave is a totally different concept. Parental leave is for the purpose of bonding with and caring for a newborn child or a child who has been placed with the employee for foster care or adoption. If you choose to offer pay for parental leave, then male and female employees must be given the same amount of leave. This recently issued EEOC press release outlining its lawsuit against a prominent company for not providing equal paid parental leave shows the importance of getting this right.
Unfortunately, there is often a negative stereotype around new fathers who take the full amount of parental leave. People tend to be more supportive and understanding when new mothers use their full leave benefit but expect new fathers to return to work within a couple of weeks. Remind your managers that parental leave needs to be delivered equally.
What FMLA Currently Allows
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees of companies with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth or placement of a child. The 12 weeks may include both medical leave for the mother and bonding time for the mother and father. However, if both parents work for your organization, you may limit them to a combined total of 12 weeks of FMLA leave for the birth or placement of a child. State leave laws may grant additional time off.