How To Approach Your Boss About Paid Parental Leave

What to know when you've got to go.

by Alison Zeidman
Office Space

If your kids come down with the flu, then you can take a few days off work to take them to the doctor or feed them soup. It would make sense, then, that when you have a new child, you should be granted time off to care for and connect with them (or occasionally lay on the couch reassuring yourself that everything’s going to be okay.) But the reality is that, for many in the U.S., paid family leave is a fantasy. In fact, it’s the only developed country that doesn’t have a national policy on paid leave, and only 13 percent of private sector workers get any at all.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Parental and Paternity Leave

So how can you talk to your boss about making paid family leave less of a pipe dream? Katie Bethell is on the frontline of this battle. She’s the Founder and Executive Director of PL + US, a grassroots advocacy organization working on making time off a reality for all parents. If your company doesn’t currently have a paid paternity leave policy, here’s how she’d ease your employer into the conversation.

Know Your Rights

First of all, if your company has 50 or more employees, they do offer some paternity leave — even if it’s unpaid, and not explicitly called that. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act signed into law by President Clinton in the early 90s, workers are entitled to up to 12 weeks of parental leave or leave for a family member’s or their own serious illness. Depending on your home state, you might also be able to use sick or vacation days on time for bonding with a new baby. Although, if squander all those sick days, what do you do when your baby (or you) actually gets sick? Find a realtor in Sweden.

Start The Conversation

In the U.S., a lot of men feel pressure not to take the time off, even if they have it. Bethell says dads need to change the way they talk about being dads … or actually, even just acknowledging it at all would be a huge help. “So many people keep info like that to themselves, or allow the conversation about parenting to focus entirely on moms,” she says. “Just starting to have that kind of dialogue about the importance of being at home with a newborn is important. In many industries, it’d be revolutionary.”

And employees need to have conversations with other parent or caregiver coworkers about company policies and ways to adjust them. “I think the more employees talk about this and demand better from their employers, the better it’s going to get until we can pass public policy,” says Bethell.

Treat It Like A Negotiation

Short-term, if you actually get a chance to talk to the higher-ups in your company about your individual needs, go into it like any other type of negotiation. “In the same way you’re never going to get the salary you want if you don’t say the number, you’re never going to get the parental leave you want if you don’t say it.” She recommends starting from their perspective: “If your most valuable employee had to leave to care for a family member or was having a baby, what would you want to do to work with them?” From there, it’s all about collaborative problem-solving. Just make sure you’re actually one of the most valued employees, or else you just scored a paid paternity leave deal for Fred in accounting.

Changing Company Policy

To make your case for widespread company policy change, it’s best to lead with facts — like how the cost of losing a good employee for 3 or 6 months is actually far less than the cost of replacing them. Bethell recommends starting that conversation by laying down some of the positive outcomes of paid family leave, and then asking, “Is this something that is being discussed by the executive team at our company, and is there anything I can do to help?”

You should feel confident broaching the subject, especially if you work for a larger company. “Paid family leave is an issue at the top of company’s minds right now, and you’re entering the conversation at a point where companies want to do well,” says Bethell. “And they know it looks bad if they don’t solve that problem.”