But given the rarity of this scenario, it's not uncommon for Americans to complain about the lack of any paid family leave at the federal level, comparing the FMLA to the family and medical leave offered by European countries.
A closer look at the actual policies of these countries shows that the FMLA does not match up so unfavorably. In her report Bringing Up Baby: A Comparison of US and European Family Leave Policies, economist Anita U. Hattiangadi notes that Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands do not have federally mandated paternity leave at all. And in those countries that do offer paid paternity leave, fathers of newborns are guaranteed far fewer days of available leave than the FMLA allows: Portugal and Luxembourg require companies to provide only two days, France and Belgium give three days, and the two most generous countries are Sweden with six to 12 days and Denmark with two weeks.
While it's true that even those few paid days off are more than the FMLA offers, fathers in these countries don't have the option to take off more time and still maintain their jobs. Only the UK offers a similar amount of time as the US—13 weeks—and as with the FMLA, the leave is unpaid.
Making Paternity Leave Work
As Dave discovered, taking even a small portion of FMLA leave for new fatherhood still hasn't gained complete acceptance within American companies. The change in attitudes towards men's re-prioritizing in life and work will happen slowly, but guys can take steps to make their leave as unobtrusive as possible. Sue Shellenberger, Work & Family columnist for the Wall Street Journal Online, offers these suggestions:
- Before you take leave, be sure to make a plan for how your work will be covered while you're out. Get your bosses and co-workers to agree—and put the plan in writing. Set limits on when you can be contacted.
- Cross-train co-workers to handle your job. This avoids the most common mistake leave-takers make, which is not training a replacement. Though you might think that leaving colleagues in the dark about your job will ensure job security, it's a short-sighted strategy that can prejudice your boss against you when you return.
- A call from a lawyer may be all that's needed to halt unfair treatment. In Ohio, a secretary who took intermittent leave was downgraded and suspended for failing to work 8 to 5—but co-workers were all on a flexible schedule. Arguing discrimination, her attorney appealed to a human-resources manager at the company, and the secretary was quietly reinstated.