by Alan Greene, MD, FAAP
In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act establishes guidelines for maternity and paternity leave. Extensive information about the Family and Medical Leave Act can be found online through the U.S. Department of Labor.
In short, the FMLA stipulates that companies which have over 50 employees must offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child; acquiring a foster child; the serious illness of a child, spouse, or parent; and the serious illness of the employee. If the employee is in the top 10% of salaried employees, the leave may be denied on the basis that it would cause undue hardship on the company. The leave can be taken anytime in the first twelve months following the event and may be taken intermittently.
This law is enforceable through civil actions. Initial complaints should first be filed with the Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration. Inquiries should be directed to local offices of the Wage and Hour Division. The Family and Medical Leave Act does not make any provision for paid leave of absence, nor does it make any provision for workers in small companies.
I intensely look forward to the day when paternity leave will be considered a normal benefit of employment. One day, perhaps, society will be organized in a way that recognizes the tremendous, far-reaching value of knitting fathers, mothers, and babies together.
However, if you look at it from your employer's immediate perspective, he or she is losing a valuable employee and getting nothing in return. You may say, "Hey, wait a minute! One day off is not much of a loss to a business!" But the time you take off surrounding the birth of your child is just the beginning of the loss your employer will incur.
Following your child's birth you will most likely be very preoccupied with family matters. Your career, which was probably once very important to you, may seem far less significant. You may be unwilling or unable to take on additional projects or work overtime.
If that isn't bad enough, for the six months or so after your child is born, you will be sleep deprived and have drastically lower energy levels at work than you normally have. All of these things affect fathers as well as mothers, and all of them cost your employer.
On the other hand, your employer doesn't have the joy of watching a precious new being come into the world. Your employer doesn't have the opportunity to hear those magical words, "Da Da." Your employer won't look at your child and be reminded of the woman he loves so much. All-in-all, paternity leave is wonderful for you and expensive for your employer.
Please don't misunderstand me! I very much believe in paternity leave. When my child was born last June, I took as much time off work, without pay, as my practice would allow. During that time I spent as much time with my family, and especially my new son, as I could. It was wonderful, but the short time I was able to take off work was only the beginning of the parenting process!
If you are interested in taking additional unpaid time off for the birth of your child, and you work for a large company, you most likely have the legal grounds to do so. If you are not in a position to sacrifice the income (many families are already losing one income with the birth of a new baby) you may want to look at creative ways to have the additional time you desire with your family.