Planning Your Paternity Leave in 5 Simple Steps
Congratulations on becoming a father! Whether you’re a new dad and this is your first child or you’re already a dad, it’s always worth considering paternity leave, understanding your rights, and planning your leave well in advance.
What is Paternity Leave
Paternity Leave, sometimes generically referred to as Parental Leave, describes the time taken off work by a father after a new baby is born or adopted (adoption of a child is covered). Depending on your specific circumstances it may be paid or unpaid, it may last 1 or 2 weeks, 12 weeks or more. It is separate from Maternity Leave.
In the US, it is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), in the UK it is an employment right. Various countries have different eligibility criteria, but overall, parental leave is designed to guarantee that eligible parents that take time off to bond with their baby and help their partner can return to their job (or equivalent) at the end of their leave.
What Are Your Rights?
In the US, if you are eligible, the FMLA ensures that you can take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave after a birth or adoption and return to the same job with the same pay.
In the UK, if you are eligible, you are able to receive pay rises, build up holiday and count on job protection. You can choose to take 1 or 2 weeks leave and you are given paternity pay of at least £156.66 (at the time of writing) or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
These are the basic, statutory rights for new parents. In the US you may be in luck if your state (currently 10 states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington D.C.) has supplemented the FMLA leave to relax eligibility requirements, increase the length of your parental leave, or provide paid family leave.
Increasingly, you may find that, whatever the country, your employer has their own parental leave policy. These employer policies must at a minimum respect your statutory rights and typically expand on them, providing you with more generous leave and pay than obliged by law.
Because Paternity Leave benefits vary so greatly across countries and employers the very first step in planning your parental leave is to find out from your employer what you are eligible for and entitled to.
5 Steps to Your Paternity Leave
Using the basic information above as a starting point, go and talk to your company’s human resources (HR) department or your benefits administrator. Make sure you find or request access to the relevant written fact-sheets and policies to ensure nothing is left to interpretation and there are no misunderstandings.
Especially in the UK, where in addition to Paternity Leave, there is a concept of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), it is important to completely understand these policies yourself. Getting to grips with Shared Parental Leave and Pay is quite challenging and requires various forms, date-based calculations, submissions by specific deadlines, and approvals. Do not leave this to the last minute and do not depend on someone else prompting you or completing this on your behalf. Make sure you don’t miss out based on a technicality.
If you feel your company’s policies infringe your statutory rights or do not align with corporate values, you could ask to discuss this with a senior manager in a constructive and non-confrontational way - you never know what might happen.
Once you understand your rights and entitlements - you’ve spoken to HR or the appropriate benefits administrator and you have copies of the relevant policies, it’s time to talk to your boss.
Any half-decent boss should be supportive and understand that the birth of your child is an important milestone in your life and that some things are much more important than work - but you never know. Approach the conversation with an open mind, be clear about what you have confirmed you are entitled to and what you are considering, take their feedback and go no further, saying you need to discuss it with your partner.
Once you have all the relevant information it’s time for the most important conversation - the one you need to have with your partner. Listen and share what you have learnt and what your preference is. Come to a joint agreement that works for the both of you. If in any doubt, my advice is to take as much leave as you can! A job is just a job, if you can afford it, take the maximum time you can to help your partner and bond with your baby. I’ve never heard a father express regret about taking too much paternity leave.
Once you have all the required information and have spoken to everyone you need to, you should have decided what to do. It is time to plan how to take your Paternity Leave with the least amount of impact possible, for you and your team. Hopefully you are not starting from scratch, you have a deputy and you have been actively succession planning. A top tip is to always be on the lookout and training someone to be ready to take on your role so that you can move up and onto new challenges.
If you do need to hire someone or make special arrangements, now is the time to do it, do not leave this until your partner’s due date!
When you decide to do this is really up to you, but at some point you will want to share your happy news with your co-workers and customers. As long as your company, your boss and your deputy or cover are all aware and preparing, there is no urgency.
When you do decide to share the news as well as the specifics of your paternity leave, it is important to stress how well this has been planned and prepared and how little things will change. Even if you are taking 6 months (which is how long I am currently taking in Shared Parental Leave) time flies and you will be back in no time.
Be aware that some people may surprise you with their reactions. You may get some uncomfortable, misguided, or even negative responses. Hopefully that will not happen but be prepared for that eventuality. Do not take it personally and do not justify, argue or debate. This is the right decision for you and your family and you do not need approval from your colleagues or customers.
Finally, execute your plan. Make sure you are ready to execute at least 2 months before the due date - that way you’re prepared even if your little one is premature or arrives early!
Really commit to the plan. Do not go to the office or attempt to micromanage things remotely. Do not check your phone or email whilst on paternity leave. This is your time with your new family, it is precious, enjoy it!
Was this article helpful?
Alan Mosely is the Co-Founder and CTO of SleepaSloth.com, Alan is a father of three who is passionate about Sleep and Technology.