By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Not very long ago you wouldn’t need a guide to paternity leave. New dads were expected back on the job the day after welcoming a baby into the world. Sometimes, they worked right through the whole experience!

Although American society is still a long way from having equal time off for both mother and father, strides have been made to allow new dads time to bond with their new family.

Possible time-off options for Dads

When planning your time off, consider the following options that may or may not apply to your employment situation:

  • Parental leave: A benefit offered by many companies, parental leave is time off that may be paid, unpaid, or a combination of both. Companies usually require that you be employed there at least 12 months to qualify. Parental leave usually applies to maternal, paternal, and adoption leave, and policies vary by company. Speak with your human resources manager to find out your company’s policy — or lack thereof.

  • Family medical leave: In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires companies that employ more than 50 people to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a given year for certain medical reasons, including caring for a new child.

  • Vacation time: Is there a better way to use your vacation time than to bond with your new baby? If you don’t qualify for either of the preceding time-off options or if the parental leave offered by your company is insufficient for your needs and wants, most companies allow you to use vacation days at the end of the leave to extend your time off.

    If your company allows you to use vacation days for emergencies and illnesses, be sure to save a few days in case you don’t have enough sick time to get you through the rest of the year.

  • Sick time: Some companies permit you to use sick time as part of your leave. Using sick time can be especially beneficial to hourly workers and unsalaried employees who don’t accrue time-off benefits at a rapid pace or may not be eligible for all of a company’s benefits, as well as for employees who haven’t worked for their company long enough.

  • Flextime: Perhaps your company really needs you back ASAP. Talk with your boss and HR representative about temporarily working flexible hours or even part time from home. You may be expected to meet daily and weekly goals and complete all your work, but the non-9-to-5 schedule can be helpful for numerous reasons, especially if baby or mom has health concerns that require extra care or help.

How to discuss your pregnancy leave options with your employer

Before meeting with your employers to find out what leave arrangements you can make, speak with other recent fathers in your company about their experiences to get a better idea of what to expect. Their information can provide you an opportunity to craft a plan that meets your needs and adheres to your company’s policies. Some great questions to ask other fathers are:

  • What was the company’s paternity leave policy at the time you became a new dad?

  • How did your boss react to your paternity leave inquiry?

  • How much time off did the company grant you? How much of it was paid?

  • Did you use the Family and Medical Leave Act, and if so, what was your boss’s reaction?

  • How did you structure your paternity leave?

  • Did you ask about using flextime before or after baby’s arrival? If so, what was the company’s response?

  • How much responsibility did you have to take for covering your job in your absence?

  • What is the one thing you wish you would have done differently in arranging your time off?

When meeting with your boss and/or HR representative, take notes of everything that is said and get any policy-related statements in writing. In addition to asking about some of the issues in the preceding list of questions, be sure to ask about the company’s policy regarding additional time off in case of complications with mom or baby.