Tips for Asking for Paternity Leave

Under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enacted in 1993 in the US, fathers may take up to 12 weeks unpaid paternity leave if qualified to do so. Recent studies have shown than many fathers aren't aware of their entitlements and a large percentage doesn't take full advantage of it.

This is a contentious issue in the employment industry, and in many workplaces. The main reason leave entitlements aren't taken is clear: Most fathers with families simply can't afford to take 3 months unpaid leave. However, other options are available, but they're a smorgasbord of situations, unevenly scattered across the US, with a handful of states offering or considering percentage-level paid paternity leave.

California was the originator of paid paternity leave in the states, offering 55% pay for six weeks. America is well behind other countries in this field in terms of law. Some US employers, including major employers like KPMG, have independently taken the step to offer paid paternity leave as part of packages. As packages, the terms of these arrangements naturally vary considerably, but they figure out as percentile pay with fixed terms of leave. The packages are designed to act as incentives, and seem to be successful, with high levels of acceptance. 

Workplace issues in paternity leave

Although paternity leave entitlements are legally clear, fathers will know that there are some things about childbirth that can't be scripted. The practical realities of asking for paternity leave include some natural complications:

Workplace situations: Although employers are obliged to provide leave, the matter of timing is an obvious issue. Covering employment requirements can be a problem, and absences can create workplace issues for other staff.

Family needs: The practical need for paternity leave arises at childbirth. Unless you have an unusually punctual child, the real requirement for paternity leave is during a bandwidth of time before the expected birth. Even the most cooperative employer can approve leave and then find its required 2 months earlier. That can throw several spanners in the works for both employer and employee.

Asking for paternity leave

The best way to organize your paternity leave is to do it systematically. The last thing any family with a new kid needs is problems at work, so do everything strictly by the book, when applying for your leave. 

Your manager, or whoever approves paternity leave, should be asked directly about procedures for application, the minute you're aware of the pregnancy. This puts the manager in the loop regarding your need for leave well ahead of the required time, and allows some discussion of the process, timing, and practical issues.

This is diplomatic, as well as practical, and reduces the difficulties for forward planning in the workplace to cover your absence.

Do NOT try and do everything at the last minute!

You're entitled to the leave, but it's not the most helpful thing you can do for your workplace to leave a hole in the team at short notice. The fact that you could have given notice a long time previously will not be appreciated.