Paid paternity leave on the rise


August 16, 2006|By MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

Great-Grandpa certainly didn't do it.

Neither did Grandpa.

But it just may be the norm by the time 1-month-old Noah Jeffrey Gifford is ready for fatherhood.

Thanks, at least in part, to his dad, Brian Gifford.

Gifford is one of a growing number of fathers who are taking paid paternity leave. In doing so, some say, these dads are helping to make it a more acceptable workplace practice.

"Baby boomers really felt stigma about taking time off because they were seen as a slouch, or not the `go-to' guy at work," said Carol Evans, chief executive officer of Working Mother Media, a New York publisher as well as operator of the National Association for Female Executives. "But now we feel proud of co-workers who are taking paternity leave. It's more of a badge."

Gifford, who works as a tax associate for KPMG in Short Hills, N.J., got two weeks of paid paternity leave for the recent birth of Noah. He took one week in the beginning of July, and opted to take a second week off at the end of the month.

"Having that time with Noah was just priceless," said Gifford, 25. "He's just changing so much every day. And to be able to be there, and not have to worry about work or finances ... it's just how it should be."

12 weeks unpaid

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 gives men who work at companies with 50 or more employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid paternity leave and return to their job or an equivalent one.

But in many cases, the mother is not earning a full paycheck in the weeks after childbirth, so a father doesn't have the luxury of unpaid leave, especially with all the expenses that come with a new child.

"The unpaid aspect of it is very painful to a lot of families and encourages people not to take it," Evans said.

Of course, many dads use their vacation time after childbirth, so they can continue to collect a paycheck, but that means fewer days off in coming months.

Paternity leaves, Evans noted, remain very much in their embryonic stages in the United States, with only 13 percent of all employers in America offering men at least some fully paid time off to care for their newborn or adopted children.

But there are some indications that employers are becoming more generous, at least according to a survey by her company's Working Mother magazine. Of the magazine's top 100 family-friendly companies in 2006 (set to be released next month), 67 percent now offer paid paternity leave, with an average of three weeks.

A decade ago, just 23 percent offered the paid leave, and the average at those companies was one week.

"Really progressive companies are setting a new tone," Evans said.

All the others, she said, need to be asked by their employees to consider offering paid paternity leave.

"The more you ask, the more you get," Evans said. "Companies really are paying attention to what their employees want."

He didn't ask

Gifford said he didn't think to ask KPMG about its policy when he was hired two years ago. But when he mentioned around the office that he and his wife, Shannon, were about to become first-time parents, colleagues readily told him about the company's two-week policy.

"People who knew my wife was pregnant said, `Oh, you get two weeks of paternity leave ... and it doesn't count against your vacation or sick time or anything,'" he recalled. "Family members and friends ... are just pretty much shocked I got the paid leave."

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