I asked a group of fathers to share the stories of their paternity leaves (or lack thereof). A few had very supportive employers with generous policies, some had nightmare situations that led to them find employment elsewhere, and most were unsupported and left to rely on their accumulated time off.
As tends to be the case with paternity leave, there is no standard benefit and experiences vary greatly (my paternity leave story is here). Here's a round-up, with my thoughts at the end.
1. "When my daughter was born, the company I worked for at the time didn't have paternity leave. I was forced to use my vacation time (two weeks) to help at home. When I got back, my boss (and owner of the company) kept referring to my time off as 'paternity leave.' I finally said, 'You know, you shouldn't call it that because I had to use all my vacation time.' She didn't realize that was the case and gave my vacation days back! I was then able to go on a proper vacation later that year.
I should add, by point of comparison, that the company where my wife worked at the time had a VERY GENEROUS maternity leave policy, and she was able to take three months off!" - Daniel Waldman, Evolve Communications
2. "When we had our youngest daughter last August, I had to use my vacation time to take two weeks off to stay home. We don't have paternity leave. My bosses did let me work from home for an additional two weeks after my two weeks' vacation were up, so I could continue to be home and care for the baby. It was especially helpful since my wife was recovering from a C-section. While we don't have paternity leave, it was nice to get some flexibility to be home for a month." - Nick Browne PapaBrownie.com
3. "They call it paternity leave in the employee handbook but then I was forced to use vacation time of which I only had five days. My daughter ended up having to be in the hospital the first week so I took another week unpaid just to be at home with her and my wife." - Nick Edwards, WeAreBoomtown.com
4. "I'm really thankful for my work and their stance on paternity leave. They actually notified me to let me know (I already knew ahead of time, but HR reached out to let me know) that I can take two weeks paid time off plus more, but it would have to be unpaid. I ended up just taking the two weeks paid and it was an extremely smooth experience. This did not count as vacation." - Scott Posey, FatherNerdsBest.com
5. "I had to take two weeks' vacation when my son was born because my work place doesn't provide paternity leave beyond what the FMLA legally requires. Once I returned to work everyone asked me how my vacation was and I had to correct them, it was a lot of work introducing a new little person into our home and extended family. I was also greeted by many complaints about how I had taken 'time off' during a 'busy season.' Had my son been born around his due date and not 10 days late I would have not missed the 'busy time.'
It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. Had I been provided with paternity leave and a more understanding work environment my son's birth would not have been such a stressful undertaking." - Anonymous
6. "On the day my daughter was born, I received a message from my boss saying I had to work the next few days or I'll get nothing... No paternity leave at all, which is illegal in the UK. He said, 'We all have kids, I have kids, I should be able to see mine,' absolutely dumbfounded... so I quit. I now work from home." - Christopher Paul Streeter, DaddyCamo.com
7. "I had to use vacation time as did my female boss who had a baby at a similar time. They make you apply for short term disability for any type of maternity or paternity leave, if you want pay." - Micah Adams, BigBonedBiker.com
8. "I have to say, my employer was wonderful (I work in higher ed) with the birth of my daughter. I had paid leave for four weeks and used my vacation for an additional two weeks. It's one of the reasons why I turned down another job that offered me more money." - Andre Moore, BirthedIntoFatherhood.com
9. "My daughter was in the NICU for 22 days. I was allowed to work from the hospital for a few weeks, then told I had to come into the office at least three days a week (my job can be done from anywhere). I was told I was "like a kid in high school smoking the restroom" and they were covering for me. I guess they never told the big boss I wasn't coming in. When I told them I'd walk into the big office right then to let him know why I was working remotely... they wouldn't allow it. I quit a few days later." - Josh Gloer, #NewDad.com
10. "My second son was born in summer 2008. I took two weeks vacation. On the day I returned to work, before I even got out of our neighborhood, I got a phone call from the asst. managing editor. I was to meet him and the managing editor in HR later that morning to fill out RIF paper work. (My welcome back was a nice little layoff after 16 years at the paper.)
I think the layoff was unrelated to the leave. My son was hospitalized for a few days with jaundice issues, and they told me they waited to tell me I was laid off until after he came home and I was back from vacation. So kind and considerate of them, yes? There were about 160 people laid off from the paper in that round, so I was far from alone." - Carter Gaddis, DadScribe.com
11. "The small company I worked for in Seattle offered two weeks fully paid parental leave. I took one week right at/following the birth, and the second week about a month later, after my mother-in-law (who came to stay with us and help) left. It didn't feel like much at the time (especially compared to the parental leave I know my Canadian friends receive), but knowing what I do now about how paternity leave works in the U.S., I was very lucky to get that time.
Interestingly, around the same time a female employee gave birth, and I was shocked to find out she only got two weeks as well. As the company was smaller than 50 people, she didn't even get FMLA protection for her job, and had to use vacation/sick days and then come back to work if she wanted to keep her job and pay the bills." - Chris Routly, DaddyDoctrines.com
12. "When my first child was born, I was a senior in college in the middle of my semester of student teaching. Since she was born on a Saturday (in April) my supervising teacher 'allowed' me to take that week off to be at home with my wife and baby. Of course, when there was no school or holidays I could be at home. But he didn't allow me to miss even one day more for the rest of the semester until school let out in June." - Carl Wilke, BigCheeseDad.com
13. "I work for a private school and we have 20 days of paternity leave that fathers are permitted to take at any point within the first six months your child is born. I've been using a few days here and there without any issues from HR or admin." - Bob Aycock, Disney Parks Parents Panel
14. "I didn't get any paternity time. They said I could take some vacation time if I wanted and to try to get some sleep." - Josh Wilner, JoshuaWilner.com
15. "My company at the time handled it informally, which was kind of a double-edged sword. They were cool with letting me take some time off when my son was born, but without an official policy, it was hard to know what was acceptable and where the leeway ended." - Mike Julianelle, DadandBuried.com
16. "What's paternity leave?" - Daniel De Guia, FittoBeDad.com
In all, this is a diverse set of experiences. Most employers did not extend formal paternity leave, forcing dads to cobble together a week or so of unpaid leave (which, sadly, is typical for U.S. dads). Some new fathers had supportive workplaces and bosses, and others had terrible experiences.
Overall, the picture is not pretty. But there are emerging reasons for hope.
- Three states (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island) have paid parental leave systems in place.
- The FAMILY Act, which would apply their model nationwide, has been forwarded in the Senate (here's the link to a petition that I wholeheartedly endorse).
- The EEOC recently forwarded guidelines to employers providing more clarity about paternity leave.
- Paternity leave is on the White House's radar screen.
- There have been several high-profile paternity leave-takers that have propelled national discussion.
- The benefits of paternity leave for dads, moms, kids, families and employers is becoming more firmly established by social scientists and attracting media attention.
- CEOs are talking the talk and walking the walk when it comes to work-family balance and shifting their company cultures.
- Many employers are stepping up with generous policies.
There's a lot more progress that needs to be made, but I am hopeful that if, five years from now, I write another article like this one, that the results will be substantially better.
What do you think about these paternity leave experiences? Have one of your own to share? Let's discuss in the comments section.