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Thursday, October 9, 2014

One Woman's Quest for Paternity Leave

Written by Meg, gifs by Kate

If you know me in real life, you know where I work. If you don't know me in real life, let's just say I work at a fairly liberal university in the very liberal state of Massachusetts. Perhaps this is why I was naive enough to think I'd have no problem qualifying to take some leave time after the baby is born. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I had expected. Then again, what else is new??

Over the summer I started my journey by calling HR and asking about "paternity leave." The woman
I spoke with automatically assumed I meant MATERNITY leave and launched into a speech about that. I interjected to tell her the full story. I am a woman, married to another woman, and I'm hoping to take some leave time when said woman gives birth to our baby. *crickets, crickets* "Let me forward you to so-and-so who handles medical leave." Mmm, ok.

So the next woman I spoke with explained that I could use my sick time, vacation time and personal time and then go unpaid for as long as 12 weeks if I choose to, under the Federal Medial Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees job protection for up to 12 weeks in order to take care of an ill family member. She also informed me that this right is only afforded to me because Kate and I are legally married, so hallelujah for that. I don't know what people do in states where marriage in not yet legal. The HR woman said we should meet in late September.

Fast forward to late September, when I meet with the same HR woman. She thinks I'm HAVING the baby. Even though I really don't think I appear 8 months pregnant AND I had clarified this with her
by phone already. So, back to square one. I am a woman, married to another woman, and I'm hoping to take leave when said woman gives birth to our baby. Also, welcome to 2014, lady. Anyway, she states again that  I can use up to 12 sick days (which I have accrued and been saving for this purpose), my personal time and my vacation time, just as she had said initially. She gives me a bunch of paperwork that needs to be signed by our midwife and returned to HR within 14 days. She also gives me a packet about FMLA.

Later I read the FMLA packet, which states that a pregnant woman can use up for 12 sicks days, but someone caring for an ill family member (which is the category I seem to fall into) can only use 5. Ummm...hello, not clear. So I email HR woman who says "right, you can only use 5. Even though I said 12 before. I thought you were having the baby!" (again, I sat in her office, very clearly NOT 8 months pregnant.) I have clearly thrown them for a loop.

I take the paperwork to the midwife, who also appears a little baffled. Apparently partners don't usually take time off to support their babies? I'm not sure. Either way, she signs it.

I returned the paperwork to HR yesterday and asked HR woman to clarify, one final time, if I can take 5 or 12 sick days. It's not the end of the world either way, but if I can use 7 sick days instead of decimating my accrued vacation time, why not? She whips out a sick leave policy and starts reading, breezing causally over PATERNITY LEAVE because "that doesn't pertain to me." Hold on a minute. I was under the impression the university did not offer paternity leave, since she never mentioned it to me to, even though I must have said 10 times that I'm looking to take leave when my wife has our baby. Of course I asked her if I could use the paternity leave policy, which allows for all 12 sick days to be used. *blank stare.* She agreed to look into it for me. Uhh...I am married to the mother of my child and my name will be on the birth certificate. What other information could you possibly need?

Anyway, this is an "all's well that ends well" story, because today I found out I was approved for paternity leave. It's a good thing, too, because I was ready for a fight. For my own sake and for the sake of the next person...

Kate said "you're a pioneer!" To which I replied that I seem to always be a pioneer, though I never really want to be. In these situations I feel like I have no choice but to stand up for myself and, I guess, blaze a path. After all, this is 2014. This is state where same sex marriage has been legal for 10+ years. This is a university that focuses on social justice. I'd say it's about time for their "paternity leave" policy to catch up. I should not be forced to be a woman taking paternity leave. Parental leave, or even second parent leave would be more appropriate. It's time. Don't you agree?

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