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HR Magazine: Make Room for Daddy
 

By Nancy Hatch Woodward  7/1/2001

HR Magazine, July 2001Vol. 46, No. 7

Some companies provide paternity leave, but few employees take advantage of it.

When U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, announced they were going to have another baby, it didn't take long before mothers and fathers throughout the country started talking about paternity leave—whether or not the prime minister would take it. British law allows fathers to take 13 weeks of unpaid leave during the first five years of a child's life.

Talk about a dilemma. Was the leader of the country going to serve as a shining example of fatherly devotion or was he going to put the needs of the country first?

When the baby arrived in May 2000, Blair did what many fathers decide to do: He took a limited break, instead of the full paternity leave allowed him.

James Levine, director of The Fatherhood Project in New York, a national research and education project that is examining the future of fatherhood and developing ways to support men's involvement in child rearing, says that new fathers tend not to take as much time off as women. For example, he notes, at one major financial firm that allows up to 13 weeks of leave, the average amount of time male employees take off is two weeks.

Not Widely Used

At Republic Bancorp Inc., in Owosso, Mich., Debra Hanses, SPHR, senior vice president of corporate HR, finds that only about 10 men a year, out of 2,000 total employees, tend to take paid paternity leave, even though the company offers six weeks of paid leave, as well as additional time off. Hanses finds that men may take a week or two, but that's all. First Union Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., also has found that male employees, in general, do not take leave nearly as often as women do. Last year, the bank had 520 females who took parental leave, but only 12 males who did, out of 70,000 employees.

Part of the reason for the low number, explains Deana Kocylowsky, benefits design consultant at First Union, is because the company only keeps statistics on those parents who take at least 20 days off.

Mark Cupples, HR communication manager at First Union, says he is a perfect example of someone who took leave but did not show up on the company's radar.

Cupples took five paid days off right after the birth and then took an additional paid week off six months later, both covered by the paid time off (PTO) and "family care time" leave he had accumulated.

Cupples and his wife, Kelly, work for First Union, and both had the opportunity to take up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave when daughter Addison was born. "I think in today's society, when you have both parents working, finances play a role in the decision about how much time to take off. To be honest, we could not afford for both of us to take leave without pay for an extended period of time. The decision on who got to take the extended leave came down to the fact that she was the one who gave birth and was also eligible for paid medical leave through First Union's short-term disability plan. But the fact that my salary was the larger of the two also influenced our decision."

What Is Being Offered

According to the 2001 Society for Human Resource Management Benefits Survey, 25 percent of companies responding reported offering some type of paid family leave other than the unpaid leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Fourteen percent specifically gave employees paid paternity leave. Oddly enough, only 13 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees provided such leave, while 29 percent of companies with 2,501 to 5,000 employees offered it. The survey noted that the percentage of companies offering maternity and paternity leave policies has decreased since 1997, when 25 percent of companies reported offering paternity leave. This decline may be due, in part, to FMLA leave and the fact that "employers were careful to make changes in their policies only after they determined the effectiveness of the law."

Companies seem to be creating unique paternity leave policies. Levine notes that many companies are offering some kind of paternity leave, though not always paid. In addition, he points out that companies also are beginning to make the leave more flexible as far as when it can be taken.

Paternity leave often is allowed for adoption as well as birth of a child, and some companies, such as First Union, also provide leave for foster parents.

AT&T, based in Basking Ridge, N.J., and Republic Bancorp offer straightforward plans. Fathers at AT&T who are eligible for FMLA are entitled to take as much as 12 months unpaid leave in a 24-month period under the company's family leave plan, which encompasses maternity, paternity and also elder care for its 166,000 employees. The unpaid leave may be taken all at once or spread out over a two-year period, and the employee is assured that he will not only keep his benefits, but also will have his old job or a similar job when he returns.

Republic Bancorp offers six weeks of paid and six weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child for full- and part-time employees who have been with the company for six months. The leave also may be taken all at once or broken up into segments.

Both New York-based Merrill Lynch and First Union provide paternity leave when a domestic partner is adopting or has given birth to a child. Merrill Lynch, which has offered paternity leave for more than seven years, redesigned its policy in 1999 to place all child-care leave under the umbrella of its child-care leave policy, explains Kate Teitel, director of global retention strategies in New York. Parents who are the primary caregiver of a child are eligible for paid child leave of up to 13 weeks in addition to 13 weeks unpaid leave, while the nonprimary caregiver is given one week of paid leave to be taken within three months after the birth or adoption of the child. Employees must work for the company for one year to receive the full benefit, but workers who have been with the company for six months may take six weeks of paid leave if they are the primary caregiver. Last year the company decided to also offer the benefit to hourly employees on a prorated basis.

First Union's policy allows employees to take from 20 days up to 12 months unpaid leave. Someone who is taking less than 20 days leave can do so through the company's PTO program or through its family care time policy. Fathers keep their benefits and have their job guaranteed for 16 weeks. After that, the company will try to place them back at their jobs or in a new position, but there are no guarantees.

Why Bother?

If men tend not to take full advantage of the paternity leave being offered them, why bother to provide it in the first place? Because it boosts morale, says Levine. Hanses agrees, adding that "it is one of the easiest policies you can put into place. It doesn't require a bunch of fancy forms or research. The next time you redo your handbook, just throw in a paragraph and you are set to go."

Fredrick Woodin, director of global sponsorships at Merrill Lynch in New York, knows first hand how beneficial the leave can be. He has taken paternity leave twice, for the births of his daughters Ella and Tess, and says that, by offering benefits such as paternity leave, Merrill Lynch shows that it understands the needs of its employees. "It makes me feel as though I am working in the right place because the company understands-even better than I originally did-how difficult it is to juggle family and career. This benefit is important," he notes, "regardless of whether all new fathers accept it. Having it is an important gesture."

Companies also are finding that as time goes by, more men are taking advantage of the leave. For example, during the 1980s, the ratio of women to men who took maternity or paternity leave at AT&T was 400:1, but by the 1990s the difference was just 19:1. "A few years ago, I would have told you that paternity leave wasn't that beneficial in terms of recruiting and retaining," says Burke Stinson, a spokesperson for AT&T in Basking Ridge, N.J., who took paternity leave back in the 1970s, when the company first offered the benefit. "But today, I would say these 20-something men are far less burdened by the macho stereotypes and the stereotypes about the incompetent dad than their predecessors. They are more plugged in to the enrichment of their children and more comfortable taking time off to be fathers. I don't know if this will be the decade of 'Dads on Leave,' but I suspect it will be a brighter decade for fathers than the 20th century was."

Selling Paternity Leave

There doesn't appear to be a consensus on exactly why more men don't take advantage of the full leave policy. But Levine, who is also the co-author of Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family (Hartcourt Brace, 1997), cautions people not to use statistics on how many men take advantage of paternity care as a barometer of whether fathers are participating more in their children's lives. There are many good reasons men may not take full leave.

Certainly, as Cupples points out, finances probably play a major role in the decision, but there may be some other mitigating circumstances.

"One reason for not taking advantage of it is because they may perceive that it might hinder their climb up the corporate ladder," Stinson explains. "The best way for companies to promote usage of the leave is for senior management to use it. My impression is that parental leave will take off with fathers after some high-profile CEO stays home for a few days to take care of his children."

Hanses concurs. "More men will use paternity leave when they know that the company is really supportive of it, and companies can actively promote this policy by making sure it is not buried in some handbook. They can advertise their support for it by also expressing congratulations in a variety of ways."

Republic Bancorp, says Hanses, sends savings bonds to families when there is a new addition to the family.

Kocylowsky recommends getting the support of the leaders of each business unit. "It's a mind change when you are rolling it out. If it is a new policy, you have to build in support from the executives and leaders, so they will encourage it."

And if you don't have a paternity leave policy? "You better get with it," cautions Woodin. "When there is so much competition for talent, it's hard to imagine in this day and age that any firm could have its head in the sand anymore on issues like this."

Nancy Hatch Woodward is a freelance writer based in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a frequent contributor to HR Magazine. She can be reached at Hatchwood@aol.com.

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