While CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg are advocating for better paternal (and maternal for that matter) leave policies, current laws and most company policies are left in the Mad Men era. I talked with an expert whose run-in with a bad paternal leave plan caused him to become an advocate for all of us.
New parents need a better break in this country. Besides Papua New Guinea, the United States is the only other country on the entire planet that doesn’t offer guaranteed paid leave for new mothers. Now when you hear that, those four little letters, FMLA, may start bouncing around inside your brain to contradict that point. Yes, the Family Medical Leave Act does allow new parents up to 12 weeks of leave, but there are several caveats: first, and most importantly, it is unpaid leave and, for most families, they simply can’t afford that long of a stretch without income. Second, the new parent must work for a company with at least 50 employees, a public or private elementary or secondary school, or a public agency to qualify. Third, the new parent must have worked for at least one year at the current employer at have at least 1,250 hours under their belt. Now when you put all these constraints into the great labor law blender along with current statistics about US employment, it turns out that more than 40 percent of US workers do not meet FMLA’s requirements, thus, they don’t qualify for 12 weeks of time off to care for their newborn.
Polices of the past
According to a recent Forbes article, “Research has linked paid maternity leave to better health for mothers and babies–lower rates of postpartum depression and newborn and infant mortality and higher rates of breastfeeding and childhood immunizations.” Not to mention that pregnancy and delivering a baby is a major undertaking. Not only does it take a toll on a woman’s body, but mentally, many women need time to bond with their baby and get used to the new normal of their lives.
But what about us guys? Sure, we were involved creating life, but let’s be honest, we got the easy end of the deal when it comes to childbirth. But what about after the delivery? These days, men are just as likely to be the primary caregiver as women. So why are paternal leave policies stuck in the Mad Men era?
To get a good grasp of just where we stand with paternal, and maternal, leave and where we can go from here to make it better, I talked with Josh Levs, a consultant, speaker and author who wrote the book ALL IN: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, And Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together. Levs experience regarding paternal leave started when he was a fact checker and reporter at CNN in 2013 and was denied fair parental leave for the birth of his child. “Anyone could get 10 paid weeks except the biological father. If I gave up the child for adoption at birth and, if the adoptive father worked where I did, he could get 10 paid weeks of leave, but not me,” said Levs. “I went to our benefits department and pleaded my case. After several months of waiting, they denied my claim, so that’s when I took legal action.” Levs story was picked up by numerous news agencies. “Support came in from all over the world. Men were coming out of the woodwork to tell me similar stories. They wanted me to help them fix the backward structure,” said Levs. “So that’s what led me to do the book.”
Leave versus left
Levs didn’t mince words when he described the current state of both paternal and maternal leave policies in the US. “It’s dismal,” he said. “More than half of companies say they have maternity leave but it’s actually a disability policy. And only 14 percent have paternal leave policies.” As you would probably expect, the companies that are on the cutting edge of parental leave policies are in the high-tech sector where a large percentage of the younger generation’s top talent is employed. Spending more time with their kids and raising families is very important to them. And if companies aren’t willing to be flexible with their leave policy, then Millennials are very likely to leave their positions altogether. “All over the country, people are leaving jobs,” said Levs. “Fifty percent of moms and 25 percent of dads take career breaks. Younger men are more likely to switch careers or even live in a new country to spend more time with their family.”
Many managers and business owners think that it would be detrimental to the bottom line to offer extended leave. But, as Levs explain it, it’s actually cheaper than the alternative. “Let’s say someone who makes $50,000 a year wants six weeks off paternal leave and if they don’t, they decide to quit or find another job. When you do the math, six weeks leave is a whole lot cheaper than the expense it will take to find, hire and train a new person, which is typically twice that annual salary.”
Get more flexible
If the parental leave policy at your workplace isn’t exactly stellar, or you need more flexibility to spend more time with your family, there are some ways to improve your situation, short of moving on to another gig. “Learn your employer’s policies on flextime and telecommuting options. Ask your manager about possibly telecommuting or starting a more flexible schedule. Present a pitch for the type of schedule that would work for you,” said Levs. If the manager has to consult others or needs some time to consider it, explain to him that you’ll need to know by a certain date and then, depending on their answer, either take it or jump ship. One thing to remember is that no matter what type of changes to your schedule you desire, you are not required to share any personal information. You can keep any developments in your private life private.