How Fathers Can Plan Their Paternity Leave

Although time off after the birth or adoption of a child has typically been discussed primarily from a working mom's perspective, there is a growing interest in paternity leave, or time off for dads too. Designed to allow fathers to prioritize their family responsibilities, paternity leave is becoming more and more common as fathers step up and take on a bigger role in their families. In fact, in 2012 two million fathers were stay at home dads and nine out of ten U.S. fathers took some time off work for the birth or adoption of a child.

Father on paternity leave
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

What Is Paternity Leave?

When people refer to paternity leave, they are referring to the period of time when a father stops working because he is about to have or just had a new baby (or an adopted baby). More often, paternity leave is referred to as family leave or parental leave because this type of leave does not just involve fathers. It can apply to mothers, fathers or domestic partners. It is important to point out that not all companies have a paternity leave policy, especially smaller companies. And, if companies do offer paternity leave, it is not always paid. Generally, in the United States, new dads do not receive paid time off after the birth of a new child.

Know Your Rights

There are some important laws to be aware of when learning your options for paternal leave.

Typically, in the United States paternity leave falls under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which in general terms states that parents of any gender can take up to twelve weeks off after a birth or adoption and still return to the same job with the same pay.

It is important to note some of the stipulations of the FMLA first though. For instance, the FMLA does not require an employer to pay the parent while they are on leave. So, in many cases, the parent is granted leave and guaranteed their job when they return, but they are not paid during that time period.

Another factor to consider is that the FMLA only applies to companies with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your workplace. You also have to have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the prior year. As a result, parents who work for small companies, or who are new to a larger company, are not entitled to leave under the FMLA. However, this does not mean that your employer will not grant paternity leave. So, it is worth asking to see if they have a policy in place.

Finally, there are some states that have supplemented the FMLA to provide longer leaves and reduce the minimum employer size to below 50 employees. Additionally, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York are the only states that require paid paternity leave. The only way to be sure if you qualify for paternity leave - and whether or not it is paid - is to talk with your company's benefits administrator

Benefits and Challenges of Paternity Leave

When fathers take time off it can promote parent-child bonding, improve outcomes for children, and even increase gender equality in the home and at the workplace. Yet, despite these advantages, many fathers still face economic and social barriers that keep them from taking more time off.

One of the obstacles is the lack of access to paid leave as well as workplace norms about male breadwinners. In many companies, it is frowned upon for men to take time off to care for a newborn or an adopted child. What's more, in the U.S., employers are more likely to offer paid maternity leave than they are to offer paid paternity leave. And, male workers also face tension in the workplace when they prioritize family over work.

However, proponents of paternity leave stress that empowering dads with paid paternity leave allows them to achieve their professional goals while also becoming supportive and nurturing fathers and partners. In the end, everyone benefits from fathers being at home for a period of time.

How to Plan Your Paternity Leave

Every good paternity leave begins with a good plan. Not only will planning in advance help things at the office run smoothly, but it also will help you and your partner consider how you will meet the financial needs and demands of your family, especially if your time off is unpaid.

What's more, because very few companies offer paternity leave plans, you will likely have to decide how to prep your co-workers, stay in touch with the office, outsource your work and transition back after your leave has ended.

Putting together a solid paternity leave plan will demonstrate to your boss and your co-workers that you not only care about your job, but that you also are committed to your career and your position at the company.

Here are some guidelines for planning your paternity leave:

Determine the Best Time to Take Your Leave

When it comes to determining when to take your paternity leave, start with a conversation with your partner. Some parents prefer to take their time off at different times so that your newborn can adjust to life at home before heading into childcare. Meanwhile, other parents want to take their time off together so that they can bond together with the baby.

If your partner is a stay-at-home parent, ask what she prefers. Sometimes there is a great deal of recovery involved after childbirth and it is most helpful to the family to have Dad home to help care for the baby so that Mom can rest and recover. Whatever your decision, make sure it is the best choice for everyone involved.

Develop a Game Plan

Once you have determined the best time to take your paternity leave, you want to figure out if you can afford it, especially if you are the primary breadwinner. After all, some or all of the leave might be unpaid. So while it might sound nice to have time off with the baby, you also need to be realistic about what you can afford to do. Another option, of course, is to see if your boss would let you work half days or telecommute. Although you would not be home the entire time, a little time off with baby and mom could be beneficial to the entire family.

Other things to think about as you are putting together your plan include how accessible you want to be while you are gone as well as how much you plan to work in the weeks you come back. The next step in your plan is to make a list of all your primary responsibilities. Then, start to think about what you can delegate and who in the office could most handle your responsibilities. If there is no one on staff that has the time or flexibility to handle your tasks while you are out, consider suggesting a temporary employee.

Start a Dialogue With Your Boss

Once you have decided when you would like to take your leave, it is important to start a conversation with your boss. You want to be sure your boss is the first one you tell if you are planning to take paternity leave. The worst-case scenario is for him to find out from someone else.

When you do talk to your boss, emphasize that you are a committed employee and reassure him that you will develop a comprehensive paternity leave plan so that things run smoothly while you are out. This conversation should be the first of many that you have as work out the details of a paternity leave plan.

Develop Allies Among Your Co-Workers

After you have talked with your boss and worked through a rough plan, the next step is to get your co-workers on board with the idea of you leaving for a set period of time. If you have people who report to you, be sure to emphasize the fact that your paternity leave represents a great opportunity for them to demonstrate their skills and abilities in your absence and to take on more responsibility.

They key to getting your co-workers on board is to focus on how they might benefit from taking on a few more responsibilities. You don't want to dump a bunch of work onto their plates and just expect them to pick up the slack while you are gone. You need to work to get their support. Listen to what they have to say. Are they feeling overwhelmed? Remember, not everyone is eager to take on more responsibilities. Be flexible and work to collaborate on a solution that you all can be happy with.

Communicate with Outside Clients or Customers

If your business responsibilities include working with outside customers and clients, you will need to have a conversation with them about your paternity leave as well. Talk to them about how things will function in your absence and who they will be working with. You also want to be sure you let them know to handle issues and who to contact. It's very important that your customers and clients have a sense of comfort with you being out.

One way to alleviate any concerns is to schedule a meeting while you are still at the office between you, the interim contact and the client. This way, the two can meet each other and develop an initial relationship before you are on paternity leave. You also may want to allow the interim contact to handle a few of the customer or client calls while you are still there. This way, if there are any problems, you can get them worked out before you go on paternity leave.

Plan Regular Check-Ins With the Office

While it is absolutely acceptable for you to be unavailable for large portions of the workday while you are on leave (especially if you are not getting paid), you will still need to have some contact with the office. When you are available during specific time periods, this gives everyone at the office a sense of comfort that if they have a question for you, they can get it answered.

The key is to determine ahead of time how and when you will be in contact with the office. For instance, a once-a-week conference call may be all that your team at work needs. Or, perhaps you are more comfortable with text or email. The important thing is that you establish how and when you can be reached beforehand. Then, if it is not working the way you envisioned be sure to communicate with your co-workers and tweak your plan somewhat.

Avoid Overcommitting

Most first-time dads are surprised by how much is involved in taking care of a newborn baby, especially if you are the only parent at home. As a result, do not expect your paternity leave to feel like a vacation because it definitely won't. Additionally, you want to avoid making yourself too available to the office staff while you are on paternity leave.

The goal of the paternity leave is to care for and bond with your newborn baby (or adopted child). You cannot do that if you are always checking your email, answering calls and responding to text messages. Try not to commit to too much office interaction until you know what parenting feels like for you.

Plus, you have no way of knowing right now what kind of special situations you might have with your baby. For instance, you could have colicky baby that keeps you up all night. As a result, you will be catching up on sleep during the day when the baby is resting. The last thing you need is to be scheduled for a noon conference call every day of paternity leave.

A Word from Verywell

Preparing for a family leave can be very stressful, especially for fathers who must deal with stereotypes and pressures to work in spite of a new baby at home. But with consistent communication and careful planning, you can put together a paternity leave plan that not only meets your needs but satisfies your employer by providing a clear plan about how things will be handled in your absence.

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Article Sources

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  • "DOL Policy Brief: Paternity Leave." United States Department of Labor. https://www.dol.gov/asp/policy-development/PaternityBrief.pdf

  • "Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act." U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.pdf

  • "Family Medical Leave Act." U.S. Department of Labor. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla