Is your partner having a baby? Congratulations! If you want to take time off when the baby is born, chances are that you can. Ordinary paternity leave is two weeks, but you can also choose additional paternity leave, which is 26 weeks. Though some countries are much more progressive in matters of paternity leave and allow families to have more flexibility in how they manage life with a new baby, here are the rules about paternity leave in the United States.
What Is Paternity Leave?
Paternity leave is time off work for the father of a child, allowing him to spend time with his new child and the rest of his family. In most states, this is unpaid leave. However, in California, there is some pay for up to six weeks of paternity leave. Washington and New Jersey also have laws about paternity leave.
Since most fathers don’t have the luxury of paternity leave, they often take vacation and sick days during the weeks after the baby is born in order to enjoy time with their newborn. Dads can also take family leave, which might offer up to 12 weeks, but it is usually unpaid.
How to Know If I’m Qualified to Paternity Leave?
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, both men and women are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave when they have a new baby join the family. Your job is protected during this time, and you must be reinstated at the end of the leave to a job of at least equivalent pay, benefits and seniority. If you work for the federal government or in an company that has 50 or more employees, and if you have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours during that year (or about 25 hours per week for 50 weeks), you are eligible for leave under FMLA.
However, if you are among the top ten percent of wage earners in your company and your leave might be detrimental to the operations or bottom line of the company, your leave can be denied. It can also be denied if you and your partner work for the same company – in that case, you are eligible for 12 weeks of leave divided between the two of you.
Still not sure about the rules where you work? Your human resources office can help you.
How and When Can I Ask For Paternity Leave?
The absolute minimum amount of notice you must give your employer about paternity leave is 30 days. However, most employers prefer that you tell them well before that, so they can make arrangements for a temporary replacement for you while you are gone. Consider discussing it with your boss as soon as you are ready to announce the pregnancy so that you can both work toward solutions for your workload while you are out of the office. You should also ask for all of the leave at once. You can always choose to come back early, but choosing to take extra leave when you initially requested only two weeks can be tough for your employer to handle.
Will Paternity Leave Affect My Career?
Keep in mind that though it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you for taking paternity leave, your situation might mean that things change at your workplace. Your job might be affected negatively, or it might not–it depends on the job. If any of your coworkers have taken paternity leave in the past, you can look to them as an example of what might happen to your job if you choose to take it. Many employers will stick to the federal laws, but they might not be happy about your decision to take leave, and that can lead them to make some adverse decisions in the future such as not giving you that raise or closing down your division.
What If I’m Not Qualified?
If you work for a small company or you work only part time, you are probably not eligible for family leave. In that case, look at the laws in your state – sometimes these take over where the federal law stops. Your state labor department can tell you if you qualify.
If you find out that you really don’t qualify for paternity leave, it never hurts to ask your boss anyway. In some cases, they might be more than happy to give you a few weeks off with your new family addition. If you are a member of a union, look into union rules and use that as leverage when you ask your boss for unpaid leave to spend time with your family.
How Can I Make Full Use of My Time with My Family If I Cannot Take Paternity Leave?
If you can’t get time off when your baby comes, there are other things you can do. Some employers allow you to “bank” overtime so that you can cash those hours in when the baby arrives. Regardless of whether you can do this, make sure to keep several vacation days available for those “first” events during the first year such as the trips to the zoo, first doctor checkup, and other valuable moments. Plan out your schedule so that you can spend as much time as possible at home such as going to work early during the week in order to take a Friday afternoon off.
How Can I Get More Information About Paternity Leave?
To get more information on paternity leave, start with the federal government. Contact the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington D.C. The phone number is 866-487-9243. You can also contact your state department of labor as well as other important places that can advocate for you such as the Families and Work Institute in New York City or the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C.