What you should know about paternity leave and how to approach your boss about it

Photo: Becca Tarter

Welcoming a baby into your life is an exciting milestone for any family. It’s cementing the next steps at establishing a family and in order to not miss those early must-see first baby moments, parental leave is on the minds of millions of working American dads.

Parental leave is when a male worker takes time off from work in order to spent time and care for their newborn, or an adopted or foster child. Depending on your workplace, paternity leave is paid time off, but other workplaces might offer it unpaid, which puts a burden on the worker to decide what a suitable amount of time off is.

The benefits of paternity leave

While fathers might be hesitant to take advantage of their employers’ paternity leave option, it can be a two-way street that benefits both the employee and employer.

The Harvard Business Review published a report in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh finding that companies who had higher participation in paternity leave programs have higher employee retention and job satisfaction. The research suggested that employers who supported them as parents with options like flexible scheduling and financial support during leaves made them more engaged and open to staying with the company longer. By offering and encouraging paternity leave, employers also rid themselves of the possibility of unplanned absences, which can prove costly, according to the report.

A more recent study from the University of Illinois and Seoul National University showed similar findings with fathers having higher life and job satisfaction when able to take a paid leave while strengthening family structure in terms of alleviating some of the pressures for mothers at home.

How important is paternity leave to employees

Very or extremely important, according to US fathers.

In a study by Boston College in 2014, 89% of US fathers said paternity leave ranked between very or extremely important. Being paid, too, while away from work was also extremely important, with five out of six fathers saying they would only take time off if they were paid at least 70% of their salary.

For nearly three-quarters of fathers believed between two and four weeks was an appropriate amount of time off for paternity leave. Interestingly, organizations in the study that offered four or six weeks of paid leave found fathers only using two weeks due to the demands of their work.

How the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) affects paternity leave in the United States

Having any conversation with your employer can be stressful and asking about paternity leave can be tricky, and sometimes, even discouraged.

The United States Department of Labor states that expected parents are eligible to take time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In order to take time as an expected parent, workers must be employed at a covered agency, which normally consists of at least 50 employees. If you work for private employers with less than 50 employees, workers are not covered by FMLA, but state or medical leave laws could apply instead.

The Department of Labor suggests that employees must have worked at least 12 months for an employer in order to be eligible for FMLA leave. It doesn’t have to be 12 months consecutively, but workers need to average about 24 hours per week of work over the course of an entire year, according to the agency.

While FMLA can give employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off, it’s important to note that the time away from is unpaid. However, wisely using vacation time in accordance with FMLA leave could help workers continue to get paid while off. As for benefits, health insurance coverage must continue via your employer and your FMLA leave cannot be used against you in instances discouraging promotions or firings.

Still, there’s more to be desired for workers in the US.

Pew Research analysis found that the US ranked dead last in government-mandated paid leave for new parents, falling behind 41 countries including Estonia, which offers a whopping 86 weeks of paid leave, in 2018.

Depending on where you work, some states have laws in place to provide paid leave for partners. California was the first state to require all places of work to provide paid paternity and maternity leave for all employees in 2004. New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Washington D.C. also have laws in place required paid leave to employees, while Washington recently became the sixth state to offer a package of up to 12 weeks of paid time off.

A recent report by Mercer found that 40% of US employers offered paid leave for both parents in 2018, an increase of about 20% since 2015.

How to approach your boss about paternity leave

Before entering your boss’ office and letting them know that you’re likely going to miss the next month due to the birth of your child, it’s important to be prepared by understanding what your company has to offer and how to approach them with your paternity notice.

Firstly, understand your company’s policy. You can talk to other employees who’ve left for paternity reasons, but the best place to start is by digging into your desk and pulling out that employee handbook handed to you on your first day of work. If it’s not clearly outlined in there, talk to someone from Human Resources who can better advise you.

When you ask for paternity leave, it’s important to be thorough with how much time you plan to be absent. Think of it as a start and end date. Depending on the company’s protocol, you should give your employer time for your request. For FMLA leave, workers are required to give at least 30 days advance notice of the parental leave, so something along those lines. As stated earlier, extra time could be in reach if you’re able to leverage vacation or sick days with your leave.

The Harvard Business Review laid out these tips for negotiating your parental leave:

Do:

  • Background research to understand what type of leaves others in your company have taken and what other places offer.
  • Talk to your manager about the type of leave you wish for.
  • Ask for the longest amount of time.

Don’t:

  • Don’t be shy about taking the full leave offered to you.
  • Wiggle around the existing policy — frame your negotiation as an experiment instead.
  • Negotiate if you aren’t in good standing as an employee.
More From Ladders