The Air Force’s New 12-Week Parental Leave Policy: Here’s How it Works

Airmen and Guardians may now take up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave under the Pentagon’s new Military Parental Leave Program (MPLP)

Authorized by Congress in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, policy details were released Jan. 4, retroactive to Dec. 27, 2022. The new policy covers births, adoptions, and long-term care requirements for new foster children.

Airmen and Guardians who exhausted available parental leave under the old policy prior to Dec. 27 are not eligible to take the longer leave; but any parent with unused or unforfeited parental leave as of Dec. 27 is now able to extend to the new 12-week standard. 

Under the prior policy, in place since 2018, a new child’s primary caregiver could take an additional six weeks of leave after convalescent leave, while the secondary caregiver could take three weeks. 

The new leave policy doesn’t put a specific timeframe on convalescent leave, instead leaving it up to the recommendation of the birth parent’s health care provider “to address a diagnosed medical condition.” Convalescent leave begins the day after the new child’s birth, or after the birth parent is discharged from the hospital, whichever is later. 

After that, both primary and secondary caregivers have a year to take their 12 weeks of leave, which may be taken in increments of seven or more days, and need not be taken all at once. 

The 2022 NDAA mandating the new 12-week policy called for the Pentagon to implement the policy within a year of the law taking effect, putting the deadline at Dec. 27, 2022. That’s why, after initially missing that date, DOD made the policy retroactive. 

As long as a service member had unused caregiver leave as of Dec. 27, they’ll be allowed to take the full 12 weeks of leave. So if an Airman had completed two weeks of secondary caregiver leave as Dec. 27, leaving one week under the old policy, he or she is now eligible for an additional nine weeks, bringing the total leave to 12 weeks. 

Similarly, a Guardian who had taken five weeks of primary caregiver leave as of Dec. 27, leaving one week to go before returning to work, is now be eligible for an additional six weeks, again for a total of 12 . 

Airmen and Guardians who returned to work before Dec. 27 and gave up parental leave will not get a reprieve. Having forfeited parental leave under the previous policy there is no chance now to gain the added time off.  

Meanwhile, any Airman or Guardian in the middle of their six weeks of convalescent leave authorized under the previous policy will be allowed to finish that leave and then take 12 weeks of parental leave. 

While the services require all leave be taken within 12 months of a birth, adoption, or foster child placement, members deployed for military operations can defer parental leave until their deployment is completed. 

To request leave under the new policy, Airmen and Guardians must use LeaveWeb, which was updated Jan. 6, or AF Form 988. Separate requests are now necessary for convalescent and parental leave, as they are now treated as distinct and separate events.  

For more details, read the full Department of the Air Force Guidance Memorandum, or this rundown of frequently asked questions. 

Advocates say the new leave policy will help the Pentagon retain and attract talent amid a historically competitive job market, putting military parental leave policies more in line with the rest of the federal government and making them arguably more generous than most private employers.