When we talk about leave for new mothers or maternity leave, most of us are familiar with the concept. What about time off for Dads? Paternity leave is a newer concept in the US, but still important. Keeping reading for important questions to ask and consider before taking advantage or your employer's paternity leave program.
Paternity Leave vs. FMLA
It’s important to know the distinction between paternity leave and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for new fathers. FMLA is a federal law that provides job protection. It allows fathers (and mothers) to take up to 12 weeks away from work for the birth or adoption of a new child. This is unpaid time with guarantee that your job will be available for you to resume after your time away. Paternity leave is time away a company can choose to offer. This post will focus on paternity leave.
Does your employer offer paternity leave?
This may seem basic but ask early about this question. Very few employers offer this benefit to new fathers. Sometimes, employers refer this benefit as “parental leave.” Since most policies are geared more towards mothers, it’s important to check whether you as a father will be covered. Also note, there’s a handful of states that mandate companies of a certain size provide leave (could be paid or unpaid) for all new parents, but still do your homework.
Do you get paid while on paternity leave?
Odds are you will not be paid while on paternity leave. Most employers do not offer paid leave for new fathers. This is completely up to the employer. They could offer paternity leave with no pay or reduced pay during the time you’re away from work. Employers can also do a combination. For example, a company could offer up to 6 weeks of leave with full pay for the first two weeks.
Do you meet your company’s qualifications to take paternity leave?
If your company offers paternity leave, they may still have criteria for who can take it. The most common criterion is you need to have worked for the company for a period of time before using the benefit. For example, some companies require you be an employee for at least 12 months before taking paternity leave.
Does paternity leave at your company have to be used in conjunction with another benefit?
Some benefits packages offer paternity leave, but you must combine it with another time off benefit. For example, a company could require you to use Paid Time off days or vacation days for the first week before providing paternity leave days thereafter. The answer her can have some longer term financial impacts.
Do you get a choice in when paternity leave is taken?
Most fathers to be assume that paternity leave happens when a child is born. However, some paternity leave plans give you a choice on when you take time off. For example, a company could you the option to take time off at a time of our choosing within 12 months after you welcome a child. Some families choose to stagger paternity leave after a mother’s maternity leave ends to maximize the amount of time at least one parent can stay home with the child.
How do your benefits (like medical insurance) work while on paternity leave?
If your company provides paid paternity leave, then they are likely to continue paying for benefits like health insurance just like normal. If you are taking unpaid paternity leave, then there’s more unknowns to check on. One possibility is your company could continue providing benefits but require reimbursement of some kind later on. This is a key question to check on and see your employer’s policy.
What kind of notice is required to take paternity leave?
After you confirm the terms of paternity leave and decide to take it, check what sort of notification is required ahead of time for your employer. Your HR department may have a form to fill out a month or two before your expected time off start date. Most policies understand that childbirth is not tied to a specific date on the calendar and will allow some level of flexibility on start/effective date for the leave.
Will your job advancement be affected by paternity leave?
It is not legal for an employer to penalize you for taking advantage of paternity leave. Let’s all be honest and agree that fathers are not looked at in the same way for taking time off as mothers. It’s viewed by some as a necessity for women and less than that for fathers in some circles. Should it be that way? Of course not. Should that change? Of course. Could it still happen under the radar? Yes, people get throttled in their career every day for things that are wrong, but unprovable by a lawyer. Since this is not a question you can ask HR about, keep your eyes open for the landscape at your place of employment to see how this is handled. Hopefully, you have a job where taking leave is encouraged or have a leader at the company who has taken time themselves!
As a final tip, ask around any colleagues who recently used paternity leave and see if want to offer any tips. Use discretion since it’s a coworker, but if they offer anything helpful about navigating this benefit at your workplace it might save you from making a mistake.
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