Maternity Leave for Men

Maternity leave for men has another name: paternity leave. This is the time a new dad takes off work for the birth or adoption of a child. Just like maternity leave, paternity leave is rarely paid.

There are, however, progressive companies offering new dads paid time off which can range from a few days to several weeks. California was the first state to offer paid family leave for both men and women. As long as you work in California, you should be able to take up to six weeks of paternity leave for men at partial pay to care for your newborn.

New Jersey and Rhode Island have also passed similar paid family leave laws, and other states are in the process of considering them.

In the meantime, most dads must take sick days or accumulated vacation time when their babies are born, and a growing number of fathers are taking unpaid leave to spend more time with their families during this essential bonding time.

How to Determine if You are Entitled to Unpaid Leave

To see if you are eligible for unpaid paternity leave, talk to your company's human resources department. Most employers are required by federal law under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to give both male and female employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave following a birth, adoption, or foster care placement.

At the end of your paternity leave, your employer is required to allow you to return to your job or a similar position that offers the same benefits, salary, seniority, and working conditions.

You are also eligible for unpaid leave if you work for:

  • the state, local, or federal government
  • a public or private elementary, middle, or high school
  • a company that employs more than 50 people who work 20 or more workweeks in a calendar year

You are eligible for unpaid paternity leave if you've been employed at the same employer for at least 12 months prior to the leave and for at least 1,250 hours during the previous year.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, if you fall among the highest paid 10 percent of earners at your workplace and your absence would cause economic harm to the company, you can be denied the opportunity to return to your previous job after taking leave.

Your employer must still provide you with a "reasonable opportunity" to return, but if you are considered a key employee at your company, you should know how your status will affect your return from paternity leave.

Another exception is if both you and your spouse or partner work for the same employer. When this happens, you are only allowed to take a combined 12 weeks of parental leave.

Even if you're not eligible for leave under the FMLA, you may still take paternity leave under your state's provisions, which are typically more generous than the FMLA. Your company may also have its own policy regarding maternity and paternity leave.

New dads can use their unpaid leave in any way they want during the first year of a child's life or placement. You might decide to take your leave all at once if your employer agrees, or to spread it out over the first year to reduce your regular daily or weekly work schedule.

What Happens to Your Benefits?

Thanks to the FMLA, your employer must keep you on their group health insurance plan while you're away. Companies generally continue to pay your premiums, but they might ask for reimbursement from your paycheck.

In the event that your job is terminated while you're on paternity leave, or you decide not to return to work, your employer will likely stop paying your insurance premiums and switch you to COBRA, which is a program that keeps you covered under the same plan but requires that you pay the premiums yourself.

FMLA restricts you from accruing benefits or time toward seniority while you're out on leave. Vacation and sick day accrual and the amount of time you've worked for the company are also put on hold. As such, this can affect:

  • raises based on seniority
  • additional vacation days
  • participation in your company's 401(k) plan
  • investing in the company's stock options

You also cannot contribute to your 401(k) or flex spending account while away on unpaid leave. This is due to the fact that you are no longer contributing pre-tax dollars because you aren't receiving a paycheck.

The Increasing Desire for Paternity Leave

Research has consistently shown that men who continue to care for their children after birth will go on to divide parental responsibilities later in life. Research has also shown that most dads want to play a bigger role in family life, but feel restricted due to work duties.

When dads take paternity leave, their children are more likely to be in good health. Because of this, advocates have called for expanding paternity leave laws.

Almost all dads consider their kids to be a top priority, and three out of four dads want to spend more time with their children. In fact, a Boston College survey of 3,000 employed fathers discovered that almost 90 percent of them thought their employers should offer paid paternal leave.

When it comes to paternity leave as we currently know it, most dads only take one day off for the birth of a child. Only a quarter will take more than a week. A lack of paid leave, the stigma associated with paternity leave, and potential harm to a new dad's career are all barriers to expanded paternal leave.

Companies should consider adopting fair policies that ensure new dads can return to work after taking paternity leave without the threat of job loss, demotion, or other negative effects.

It's also important for part-time and small-business employees to have access to paternity leave. This type of access would expand the leave benefits not currently covered under federal law.

Regardless of their job status or career, men should be there for their children after adoption or delivery.

Options for Expectant Parents

When you need to take paternity leave, schedule a time to go over your options with your company's human resources department.

In most cases, a human resources representative will suggest multiple options so you can get a clearer picture of how much time you can spend at home. It's also important to see how taking paternity leave will affect your family's finances.

Once you've learned about your options, speak with co-workers who have taken paternity leave. Human resources can give you all the technical aspects of parental leave, but sometimes the best source is a parent who has actually put the company's policies to the test.

While it would be nice to get paid during the first few months of your child's life, according to the White House, only 39 percent of full-time employees have access to paid family leave.

Expectant parents may need to plan ahead in order to bank sick leave and vacation time, which can act as a sort of paid parental leave. Whether your employer allows this, however, is dependent upon company policy.

Since new mothers are physically incapable of working following labor and delivery, it's easier to use sick time for the final weeks of pregnancy and the first few weeks of a child's life. Fathers will need to get more creative in planning their time off.

Remember, though, that babies get sick. You may not want to use all your accumulate vacation and sick leave immediately following the birth or adoption so you can have some banked for doctor visits and illnesses.

If you're certain you qualify for FMLA or your state's provisions, be sure to give the required notice to let your employer know you intend to take FMLA leave. Come to your employer prepared by printing out a copy of the FMLA fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor. You can also discuss this option with human resources.

However, if you are employed only part time or by a small company, you won't be able to qualify for paternity leave under FMLA. When this is the case, see if you're entitled to leave under local or state laws. Many times, these may be more generous than FMLA benefits. Even if you're not covered by state or federal legislation, consider asking your supervisor for a leave of absence.

Keep in mind that FMLA leave is unpaid. While the FMLA provides time to spend with your new baby, you could end up hurting from the lack of income.

If you're a member of a labor union, ask your manager or union representative whether you qualify for leave under union rules.

If none of these options are available to you, see if your employer will allow you to work extra hours before the baby is born so you can exchange those hours for time off after the birth.

As a new dad, you will probably have a difficult time getting the leave you need to nurture your new family member. As with maternity leave, the United States falls behind other developed countries. In fact, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 81 countries in total guarantee paid leave for new dads.

Same-Sex Partners

As the law currently stands, same-sex couples face great difficulty in getting paternity leave, particularly when the couple are the nonbiological parents. Even so, things are improving and companies are getting better about acknowledging same-sex partners.

The Department of Labor decided in 2010 to extend coverage under the FMLA to nonbiological parents, giving them access to FMLA leave. Similarly, a Supreme Court ruling found the FMLA applicable to same-sex couples who are legally married. If you are not legally married to your partner, your employer may deny you paternity leave.

Getting any type of paid leave is more difficult when you are not the parent giving birth. If you have concerns about your rights as same-sex parents, reach out to an LGBT advocacy group or contact an attorney.

Making it All Work

Determining how much paternity leave you can afford to take depends on the benefits and job protections being offered. Start planning early and speak with your human resources department, your supervisor, and co-workers to figure out the best course of action months in advance.

Prioritize any employer-offered paid leave first, followed by vacation time, sick time, and unpaid leave (FMLA).

Let your employer know of your intention to take paternity leave as early as possible. This allows you both to start planning your absence in advance. According to federal guidelines, you must request leave 30 days before you plan to take it, but in the case of paternity leave, the earlier the better.

For example, you might discuss paternity leave with your boss and human resources department as soon as you announce the pregnancy. This usually occurs after your partner's first trimester.

When you inquire about paternity leave in advance, you place yourself in a better position to negotiate your leave, especially if you have a specific plan in mind and can help your boss implement it. Focus on offering your boss solutions about how your work can be handled in your absence.

On the home front, budget for the pregnancy or adoption as well as your anticipated paternity leave. It's important to set aside some money during this time so you and your partner won't be stressing about work and finances in the months to come.

Don't forget to estimate how your monthly household expenses will go up with the birth or adoption of a new child. Consider extra expenses such as diapers, formula, food, and higher health insurance premiums.

When you have no choice but to take unpaid leave, a two-income household is better able to go without one paycheck for months. If your spouse or partner does not work, it might be more difficult to take unpaid paternity leave. Saving for your unpaid leave ahead of time can make the months without a paycheck more bearable.

The arrival of a new baby is a joyous occasion. The last thing you want to worry about is money.

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