Did Mets Second Baseman Daniel Murphy Have a Legal Right to Take Paternity Leave at the Start of the 2014 Season?

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New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the major-league baseball season to witness the birth of his son, Noah, and to spend an extra day with his wife, Tori, and his newborn son. Was he legally entitled to take this paternity leave, particularly at the opening of the 2014 season? Most people would not even be asking this question if Daniel Murphy were not a nationally known and highly popular sports figure or if his participation in the opening games of the MET’s season were not considered by his team members and fans to be so crucial to the season’s success. Far less controversy would also exist if Murphy had taken his paternity leave at a later time, rather than at the precise stage of the season in which he did.

Yet, despite all the criticism leveled at Murphy from fans and commentators, many others feel that Daniel Murphy was well within his legal rights.

Contractual Right to Paternity Leave

An employer is free to offer either paid or unpaid paternity leave to an employee, even if that paternity leave is not required under state or federal law. Murphy’s employer is among the approximately 15% of United States employers that choose to provide this benefit to their employees and can be applauded for that decision. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the Major Baseball League (MLB) and the players’ association, Murphy is contractually entitled to take up to three days of paternity leave during the first year of his child’s life. The agreement not only allows Murphy to take this leave, but also grants him the right to designate which three days he will take. Since mothers—particularly those who deliver by Caesarian section, as Murphy’s wife, Tori, did—generally require the most support and assistance in the days immediately following childbirth, Murphy’s choice was a wise family decision as well as a legal one. Were he to have taken his leave at a later time, he would have missed these special and crucial first days of his son’s life as well as the opportunity to provide his wife with the assistance and support she deserved at that time.

Employer Discrimination Regarding Paternal Leave

Employers sometimes offer paid or unpaid leave to mothers of newborns but not to fathers. This may constitute unlawful disparate treatment under federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws. If your employment contract offers maternity leave to mothers but neglects to offer the same benefit to fathers, fathers of newborns may have a legal claim for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Right to Paternity Leave under Federal Law

Employees are often unaware of their rights to paternity leave. The right to paternity leave may be guaranteed not only under the express terms of your employment contract, but under state or federal law, as well.

Though employers are not generally required to offer paid maternity or paternity leave to their employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)–a federal law governing worker pay and worker hours, found at Title 29, Chapter 28 of the U.S. Code–requires certain employers to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn child.  The benefit applies to children borne or adopted by employee-parents as well as to children placed as foster children in an employee’s home. The FMLA requires all employers of 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius to provide paternity leave to employees who have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and at least 1250 hours in the previous year. Because the paternity leave granted under the FMLA is unpaid, however, fathers often choose not to take it. The fact that a father’s leave is unpaid while a mother’s maternity leave is often paid contributes to allegations of disparate treatment in some lawsuits filed to enforce a father’s paternity rights.

Right to Paternity Leave under State Law

Certain employees may be entitled to partially paid paternity leave under state law, though very few states provide this leave. California, New Jersey, and Washington, for example, have Paid Family Leave Laws, which provide for paid leave to new fathers as well as mothers. Though employers in these states are required by state law to offer paid paternity leave, the funding for these payments generally comes from state disability insurance programs. In California, for example, employers are required to offer leave to new parents if state disability insurance covers that employee.

Know Your Rights

As stated above, your employer may grant you the right to either paid or unpaid paternity leave, even if not required to do so under the FMLA or state law. Employees who are unsure of their rights should discuss the terms of their employment contracts with their HR departments or an attorney experienced in employment matters.

Obtain Expert Assistance from an Experienced Personal-injury Attorney

Today’s writer, Jeffrey Killino, is the managing partner of The Killino Firm, P.C. and a respected litigation attorney with extensive experience with all types of accident, personal-injury, and child-injury cases. Attorney Killino’s knowledge and expertise have earned him appearances on major television networks, including CNN, ABC FOX, and the Discovery Channel, to discuss nationally-recognized cases, including one against Mattel, Inc., which resulted in an order compelling Mattel to offer free lead-testing to children who may have been exposed to lead-containing toys, and one resulting in the recall of 450,000 tires manufactured in China.

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