Adding a new human to the family roster can be a shock to the system. Sure, we have cuddles and snuggles to look forward to. But on top of that, ENTIRE routines need to change. Baby colic, infant reflux, and a labor recovery are all on the table. That’s not to mention the crying.
Adjusting to feeding routines is one thing, but having the time to properly bond with a child is huge. In my nonparent opinion, I could make a slippery argument that this bonding time could be even more important for the father. Not being physically attached to the child for the last nine months puts me behind from day one. Yes, I compete in all aspects of life.
I have already caught Mrs. Max OOP exposing the baby in her belly to her favorite music genre. I call this “baby bop” time, and it is usually occurring when I come home from work. It’s cute, but the music can be questionable. Let’s just say I am determined to catch up with Mrs. Max OOP’s already growing relationship with the baby while also making some corrections to the music department. I am only half-joking here.
Fortunately, that is where paid parental leave comes in—yet another intersection of healthcare, life, and personal finance.
Paid Parental Leave
If you are lucky enough to have a parental leave benefit, capitalize on it. It can be a great way to line your pockets with income while you adjust to your new normal. But you also need to make sure you understand how the benefit works.
First, not everyone has access to paid parental leave.
This 2019 WorldatWork survey data suggests 52% of employers offer a paid leave benefit for both parents. This Mercer study has a bar graph showing 41% of employers were even offering non-birth parents parental leave in 2018.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to translate to broad access to this benefit. According to this random congressional research document I found on the internet, 16% of private industry employees had access to paid family leave from their employers in March 2018.
The good news is this trend is on the rise as more and more employers offer this benefit. Employers are using it as a way to attract and retain talent.
Max’s Parental Leave
As the father, I never thought I would qualify for time off after having a baby. I have heard many stories over the years of mothers struggling to get meaningful time off work after having a baby in the United States. If mothers are barely getting time off, why would Max? I always figured dramatic moves like ‘early retirement’ were the only way for me to get meaningful time with new family members.
But back in late 2019, I got an email from my Human Resource department. The email subject suggested a new paid benefit related to parental leave for our employees. The use of “parental leave” and not “maternity leave” caught my attention. Knowing a child might be on the horizon, I quickly clicked the email to get the details. Could a baby sabbatical be in store for Max?
The new benefit would deliver a four-week, 100% paid leave that would provide additional support and bonding time for employees with growing families. The paid leave would allow for more flexibility upon the arrival of the newest additions to our team members’ families.
Here was the kicker – the benefit applied to both the birth mother and non-birth parent (that’s me).
Parental Leave Eligibility
I need to check three boxes to be considered eligible for this benefit.
First, I must be “benefit eligible.” Qualifying for benefits means I am eligible for things like health insurance and paid time off. For my organization, it requires us to work a minimum of 20 hours per week. Done.
I also need to be actively employed the first month following three months of employment. At four years and counting with this employer, I can quickly check this box too.
Last, but probably the most important. We need to have a baby. In the policy language, they call this “experiencing the birth” of the child. Adoption counts, too, if the child is under the age of 18.
Foster care and adopting a spouse’s child does not count. They are clearly all over the loopholes.
Length of Leave
As I mentioned above, this is a 4-week paid benefit. In total, this comes out to 20 days off work. But there are some things to note here, particularly the flexibility built into this benefit.
4-week paid benefit X 5 days per week = 20 days off work
I have sixteen weeks from the date of the birth (or adoption) to use these four weeks. The only restriction is I need to use it in one-week increments. In other words, I cannot just take 16 Fridays and 4 Mondays off.
As a department director, a few days off spread out over 16-weeks would likely be preferred by my boss. But when you scale a benefit like this across an extensive health system dependent on consistent schedules, I see why they set it up as they did. Not to mention long stretches of uninterrupted time with baby is likely a better recipe for meaningful bonding. The setup makes a lot of sense to me.
I will receive 100% of my pay for this 4-week leave. This equates to 20 days off work, and there are approximately 260 workdays each year.
52 weeks X 5 days = 260 workdays annually
That means this benefit is worth approximately 7.7% of my take-home pay—a pretty impressive package.
20 parental leave days / 260 annual workdays = 7.7%
Additionally, I still get my $22,000 health insurance plan and paid time off accruals. So the benefit is technically worth more when you figure all that in. Considering 2021 is the first year in my career without a raise/cost of living adjustment, this will have to do.
Like pretty much everything else in my life, I decided to plan out how I might use this benefit. Considering I have no idea what it is like to have a baby in the house, this is always subject to change.
I am required to use my paid time off for any time off needed during the actual week of birth. Since our due date is April 23rd, I could use paid time off that Friday and then switch to parental leave the next week.
If Mrs. Max OOP goes into labor on 4/23/2021, I will take that day off using 8 hours (1 day) of paid time off. I will then move into my parental leave benefit. Additionally, by April, I will have more than 25 days (5-6 weeks) off in my PTO bank that I can use to subsidize days off as needed. Flexibility will be key here.
I put together a potential schedule and will try and plan work deadlines around this.
Parental Leave in Action
- Day 1: Friday, April 23rd, 2021 – paid time off
- Week 1: 4/26/2021 – 4/30/2021 – first week of parental leave
- Week 2: 5/03/2021 – 5/07/2021 – second week of parental leave
- Week 3: Return to work (potentially half days or a short week using PTO)
- Week 4: Return to work (potentially half days or a short week using PTO)
- Week 5: Return to work
- Week 6: 05/31/2021 – 6/04/2021 – third week of parental leave
- Week 7: Return to work
- Week 8: Return to work
- Week 9: Return to work
- Week 10: 06/28/2021 – 7/2/2021 – fourth week of parental leave
Depending on where things land with the pandemic and the Canadian border, we may plan a trip to see Mrs. Max OOP’s mother in New Brunswick. We might even take a day trip to see the highest tides in the world, depending on where our comfort level is with traveling. This is a big “if” with everything going on right now, not to mention adjusting to a newborn.
Mrs. Max OOP and I have not even considered having a second child yet, but there is timing to think about if we do. We are only eligible for this benefit once in a rolling 12-month period. The policy is not clear on when that 12-month period ends. Do the 12 months start counting on the date of birth, or 16 weeks after birth? I will ask the question and see if I can poke a hole in the policy.
Also, it looks like this benefit runs through a third-party insurance company called Unum. I need to request the leave approximately 30 days before my anticipated leave date. Since we are due 4/23/2021, I will put in the request on 3/23/2021. If the baby happens to come early, I will need to let them know right away.
As for job protection, I generally don’t need to worry about that type of thing. I have a good pulse on the organization, and I typically play nicely with others. I also provide a good value for my time. That said, I do have the same protection I would have under a Family Medical Leave (FML).
Here I used to think early retirement was a sexy concept. Now I think getting paid a full salary to stay home from work is even better. I am very grateful to work for a stable organization with a progressive benefit structure that extends to Dad. This benefit is worth 7.7% of my salary.
I am looking forward to maximizing this benefit to boost my bonding time with the baby.
When I couple this benefit with my already generous 6.5 weeks of paid time off, I am looking at over ten weeks off this year. That’s worth 20% of my salary. Who knows, if I like being home enough, maybe I will consider cutting down to 32-hours per week when the dust settles on all of this. A hybrid version of early retirement.
Finally, we are lucky enough to be in a position where Mrs. Max OOP will likely stay home with our first child for several months. As a part-time remote teacher, she may take on one AP Statistics class this fall, but we plan to try and keep things focused and simple outside of that.
Do you get parental leave?