Paternity leave is the time a father takes off work at the birth or adoption of a child, and when I first started working 13 years ago, no men I knew took it. Fortunately, a lot has changed. These days, more and more new dads are taking advantage of paternity leave, which is typically unpaid although some companies offer fathers paid time off ranging from a few days to a few weeks.
Start Planning Early
If you and your partner are expecting, initiate the paternity leave process by speaking with your organization’s HR department. Most companies are mandated under federal law to allow their employees 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after the birth or adoption of a child under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The law also says that at the end of your leave, your organization must allow you to return to your job or a similar job with the same salary, benefits, working conditions, and seniority. You’re eligible for FMLA if:
- You work for the federal government, a state or local government, or any company that has 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of your workplace
- You’ve worked for your employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during the previous year (which comes out to 25 hours per week for 50 weeks)
One note: Your employer does have the right to deny you leave or fill your job if you’re in the highest paid 10 percent of wage earners at your company and your absence would cause substantial economic harm to the organization.
Many men are concerned that they will be discriminated against for taking either paid or unpaid leave. Although this is illegal, it does happen, so my suggestion is to feel out other men who have taken leave to see how it was perceived by the company and how they were treated by managers and colleagues over the long-term.
Give Plenty of Notice
According to FMLA, you must request leave 30 days before you plan to take it, and it’s probably smart to give your boss even more notice than that. In fact, once you are safely out of the first trimester and you start discussing the pregnancy at work, it’s a good time to broach the issue of paternity leave. Being proactive by developing a plan for how your responsibilities might be handled with minimal disruption, and fine-tuning it with your boss far in advance of your leave date, will make everyone feel better about temporary changes to come.