Becoming a dad, either through the birth or adoption of a new child, is a monumental life event. Adding a new member to the family is a big deal, whether you are a mother or father.
It’s natural to want time off from work to dedicate your energy to this major change and to bond with your child. Maybe the women in your office have used the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for a child-related absence, but do you have the same rights?
Not on the basis of sex
Under FMLA, anyone can take leave for the birth or placement of a child for adoption or foster care, regardless of whether they are a man or woman. Employees can also take time off to care for a child for whom they stand “in loco parentis,” which means they provide day-to-day care or financial needs for a child.
FMLA leave is available for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period and protects you from termination or retaliation during that time. For instance, if you are a birth father whose wife is taking off 12 weeks, you can take off another 12 weeks after that if you want to postpone childcare. This could be especially helpful for parents of premature children.
It is worth noting, however, that FMLA leave is not paid – FMLA simply guarantees you will not lose your job or hurt your career with the company. If your employer offers paid leave, it may be worth exploring if you have the legal right to that option or if the policy is discriminatory against fathers or adoptive parents.
Am I eligible?
Whether you are a mother or father does not determine your access to FMLA, but you and your employer must meet certain requirements for you to qualify. They include:
- Working for an employer that is a private company with at least 50 employees, a government agency or a primary or secondary school
- Working for said employer for at least 12 months, which do not have to be in a row – generally speaking, there should not be a larger than seven-year gap between service with the company
- Working for said employer for at least 1,250 hours, or roughly 24 hours per week, during those 12 months
- Working at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees with a 75-mile radius of where you work
Protect your rights
Employers may find your decision to take time off unconventional, especially if they were a parent in an era when childcare was primarily the mother's responsibility. But their confusion should not impact your right to bond with a new child.
If you are facing resistance while trying to utilize your FMLA rights or have faced retaliation for taking FMLA leave, your employer may be engaging in unlawful employment practices. You can discuss your situation with an employment attorney to determine if there is a path for recourse.