We often talk about the time that moms need with their new babies in those first early months, but it’s important to remember that dads need time for bonding too. Although there are laws that allow dads to take time off from work to be with their new babies, those rights are often quite limited. Dads-to-be who want to take time off after the baby’s birth should familiarize themselves with all the rules on paternity leave ahead of time so that they can make the most of that time when the baby arrives.
Paternity Leave and Pay
In most cases paternity leave is unpaid (although some progressive companies offer paid paternity leave for a few days or even weeks). However, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), both men and women are allowed to take up to 12 weeks of leave without pay after the birth or adoption of a child. The law requires that if you take the leave, your company must allow you to return with the same salary, benefits, and level of seniority. Check with your human resources office to make sure that you are eligible to take FMLA unpaid leave.
If you are able to take some time off, the key is to figure out how to make the most of it. One important thing to know about FMLA leave is that you may use this 12 weeks at any time during the first year – and you can break up the time if you need to. Some dads take their leave for a week or two at a time; other dads use the time to negotiate a shorter workday or work week. Another possibility is to take the leave after the mom’s maternity leave time runs out, to stretch out the amount of time that the baby will be home before a parent before you need to set up other child-care arrangements.
Paternity Leave and Employee Benefits
Additionally, you need to consider the following: Will your benefits still be covered while you are on leave? Will you still accrue vacation time at the usual rate? Will you be eligible for a raise at the same time even if you take the leave? You also need to figure out who will take over your work while you are gone. The key is to work closely with your human resources office and your supervisors to find an arrangement that works for everyone.
What if you Don't Qualify for Paternity Leave Under the Family Medical Leave Act?
If you don’t qualify for FMLA leave (as is the case with many people who work for small companies) you may need to be creative about finding time to spend with your baby. Many dads save up vacation time to create a brief paternity leave for themselves. Some expectant fathers negotiate an arrangement where they work more overtime hours before the baby is born in exchange for time off after the baby arrives. Others develop a long-term plan to work long days four days per week in order to have Fridays, or every other Friday, off.
Even after all of these details are worked out, one thing that is confounding about paternity leave is that many dads don’t take the leave even if they are entitled to it. Some fear that they will set themselves back on the career track; others simply can’t afford the time without a paycheck during an unpaid leave. But even if you will not be able to take a formal paternity leave, remember that there are many other ways to have special time with your baby. Make yourself part of the baby’s bedtime or early-morning routine, or carve out a specific time during the day that’s just for you and your baby. The special time that you set aside now will lay a solid foundation for a healthy lifelong relationship with your child.