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Planning for paternity leave
If you want to take time off for the birth or adoption of a child, it's smart to plan ahead. Use this helpful checklist as you research your options for paternity leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law, provides many Americans 12 weeks of unpaid time off to care for an immediate family member, such as a newborn or newly adopted child. The FMLA applies to most men and women who can answer "yes" to all three of these questions:
- Do you work for:
- a company that employs 50 or more people who reside within 75 miles of the company and worked at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding calendar year?
- a public agency (federal, state, or local)?
- a public or private elementary or secondary school?
- Have you worked there for at least 12 months?
- Have you worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months?
Besides the FMLA, you may also have one or more of these options for your paternity leave:
- Paid sick time or medical leave
- Paid vacation time
- Unpaid paternity leave covered by state family leave laws
- Paternity leave benefits offered by your union
- Other paid or unpaid paternity leave options offered by your employer
Keep paper or electronic copies of everything (including any forms you submit) organized in one place:
- FMLA application
- Family leave application for your state (if your state has its own family leave laws)
- Request for vacation time
- Forms for your family doctor or pediatrician to fill out
- A copy of your company's family leave policy
- Letters and emails to or from your supervisor or human resources contact
- Notes about phone calls or meetings with your supervisor or human resources contact
Questions to ask your co-workers
Ask other men at your company how they handled paternity leave. It may be helpful to ask such questions as:
- What kind of response did you get from your boss and colleagues when you asked about paternity leave?
- How much time did you take off? How did you structure your leave?
- What arrangements did you make to cover your responsibilities while you were out?
- Did you run into any problems? How did you solve them?
- How did you transition back to work?
- Were you able to arrange any kind of flexible schedule before or after the baby arrived?
- What forms did you fill out and where did you get them?
- Is there anything you wish you had known or done differently?
Questions to ask your human resources contact
Depending on your relationship with your boss and how things work at your company, you might want to start the conversation with your boss before talking to your HR contact. Getting your boss on board with your plan can be important if you want to negotiate time off outside the standard HR guidelines.
When you meet with your HR contact, be sure to take notes and keep copies of them along with any written or electronic documents.
- Does the company offer paid paternity leave? If so, how many days?
- How many weeks are covered at what percentage?
- Can I take additional time if my partner has complications?
- Is there a waiting period before I can collect benefits?
- How many vacation, personal, or sick days have I accrued?
- Are there any limitations on how I can use these days?
- Do I have to use accrued vacation, personal days, or sick days before any other kind of leave?
- Can I take vacation days that I haven't accrued yet?
- Am I eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid family leave under the FMLA?
- Am I eligible for paid or unpaid family leave under the state's provisions or company policy? How much and when can I take it?
- Will I have to wait longer to be eligible for a raise if I take unpaid leave?
- Will it take longer to accrue more vacation time if I am on unpaid leave?
- How do I pay my health insurance premiums while I'm on leave?
- Will I still be covered by my life insurance while on leave? How do I pay those premiums (if you pay for extra coverage)?
- Are any other benefits affected by my paternity leave?
- Are you willing to negotiate any exceptions to the existing policy?
Planning paternity leave from self-employment
You may have more flexibility if you work for yourself, but you'll still need to figure out how to cover client needs while you're out. What needs to be done depends on your industry, but it's always good to find reliable coverage.
- Review your assets and carefully plan how to cover expenses during your leave.
- Arrange for coverage for your clients during your leave – an employee, a contract worker, or an outside vendor.
- Let your clients know when you'll be unavailable.
- Determine how your substitute will meet your clients' needs. Also figure out how you will communicate and under what circumstances you need to be contacted.
- Decide if or how you'll stay in touch with clients.
- Determine how and when you'll let clients know you're returning.
- Plan how your replacement will transfer the work back to you.
Planning paternity leave from college
Many schools offer maternity leaves, but provisions for paternity leave may be unclear or nonexistent. Graduate programs often have some sort of parental leave, and undergraduates may be able to arrange to take a temporary leave. Talk to your department head or a faculty advisor about how you can take a leave and make up assignments.
If your school receives federal funds, it must comply with Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. (This includes pregnancy and parental status.) By law, the school must have a designated employee, sometimes called the Title IX coordinator, to address complaints and make sure the school complies with the law. If you feel you're being discriminated against because of your gender, contact the school's Title IX coordinator.
- Contact the dean of students to find out how to apply for leave.
- Talk to professors about the time you'll be away and how you can make up assignments.
- Fill out any applications for leave. (Keep copies.)
- Find out how your leave might affect your financial aid status for grants, scholarships, or student loans.
- Inquire about loan deferments and apply for them as needed. (Keep careful records of all conversations and correspondence.)
- If you work, discuss your leave and disability pay options with your employer.