How to Ask for Paternity Leave as a New Father

Illustration of a man bottle-feeding a baby

Sure, you may be on cloud nine in the weeks leading up to you becoming a father, but you might not be as joyous when you’re having two hours of sleep, or the house is in shambles. In other words, to adapt to this incredible life change and establish a work-life balance, you will need to take paternity leave.

Despite the progress society has made in recent years, there is still a stigma attached to new fathers requesting paternity leave. Even when companies offer new dads the opportunity to take leave and help out with the newborn child, many fathers choose not to, whether it is out of fear that they might miss out on future employment opportunities or their employer might look down on their behaviour.

While some offices might maintain this Mad Men environment, most businesses are accepting of their male employees taking paternity leave. You might realise that you have many more allies than you’d think.

Of course, even if there is a stigma attached to paternity leave, you should only care about what’s best for your child. Why should you worry what Billy the intern or Susan from marketing thinks about you taking time off to help your partner look after your bundle of joy?

We have compiled a list of nine steps for requesting paternity leave from your employer.

1. Learn about your employer’s policies

Although more jurisdictions are making paid maternity leave a part of labour law, many places still do not have sufficient policies for new dads taking time off. That said, many companies are reacting to the growing demand in the marketplace, especially when they are trying to retain talent. Therefore, it is important to get in touch with your boss and learn what the firm’s policies are and how you can take advantage of the system in place.

Some private firms may allow employees to have ten days off. Other organisations might have unique working arrangements, such as telecommuting or flexible schedules. Either way, it would be best to inquire with your manager and HR, read through the corporate employee handbook and learn about your options and what ways you can make this work. You never know if your company has different procedures for traditional childbirth, surrogacy and adoption cases.

2. Determine how much time you will need

There are two components to this point. The first one is how far in advance you should apply for paternity. The second one is how much time off you will request.

Typically, it’s recommended that you apply four weeks in advance of when you request paternity leave. This allows both you and your employer to prepare and get organised before your absence. That said, you could also apply for it within a reasonable period after the birth or adoption of your child, usually up to a few weeks after your bundle joy enters your life.

Ultimately, before you get the wheels in motion, it would be a prudent idea to learn what your rights are and what benefits your company offers to its employees (see above). Once you are equipped with this knowledge, you need to determine how much time you will need off. This is extremely helpful when you apply for paternity leave.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to engage with your partner on this matter.

3. Inform your employer how your absence will affect operations

Let’s be honest: Your extended absence will have an impact on the day-to-day operations over the next little while. One of your colleagues may need to take on some of your work, while a couple of co-workers might need to stay late twice a week to play some catch-up. Overall, there could be chaos.

How do you plan to minimise the disruption caused by your absence? That’s what you need to figure out. Once you do, then you can inform your employer about what can be done. If you’re out of ideas, then here are some you can consider moving forward:

  • Start early, stay late and work weekends in the weeks leading up to your paternity leave.
  • Do the same thing when you return to work after your time off.
  • Offer minimal remote work when the situation at the office becomes too tight.
  • Stay in touch with the office throughout your leave.
  • Create a to-do list, an instruction guide or anything else that will help whoever is filling in for you.

Once again, by doing this, you are showing your responsibility and gratitude for the time off.

4. Offer alternatives in the event of rejection

So, what happens when you’re requesting a short amount of time off and then it is denied? While it could be disappointing for you and your family, this should not deter you from seeking out other working alternatives.

If you are unsure about your options, here are some other working arrangements you can propose to your employer:

  • Work remotely during an agreed-upon schedule (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for example).
  • Maintain a flexible work schedule (leave work early or have one day off per week).
  • Telecommute instead of taking two full weeks off.
  • Come into work during peak times to ensure the office does not fall behind.

That said, it is still imperative to establish boundaries between you and your employer. Once you have laid out a reasonable solution, your employer will need to respect these boundaries. Otherwise, what’s the point of it all? A schedule is essential when it comes to balancing both the needs of your adopted son or daughter and your employer’s.

5. Avoid maxing out your paternity leave

Here is also a bit of advice. If your employer does off an unpaid or paid paternity leave programme, it is best not to maximise your time off. For example, if your firm provides four weeks off, consider asking for only two to three weeks. This will suggest that you respect your employer and will show that you are not taking advantage of the system for personal gain.

6. Write a format letter to your employer

The next step consists of writing a formal paternity leave letter or application.

It is important to type up a couple of templates and choose which one would be most suitable for your firm. If you are uncertain about what to write, here is a sample template:

Subject: Paternity Leave Application

Dear [manager’s name],

I would like to inform you that my partner, Ashley, gave birth to a beautiful baby named Spencer. Therefore, I would like to request paternity leave, starting from June 6 to June 23.

I have asked my colleague [colleague’s name] to speak with the customers I have arranged meetings with during that time. I have also requested that he handle any issues on my behalf and take on my current projects while I am gone.

In case of an emergency, I can be reached by telephone (416-555-2323) or by email ([email protected]). I will return to work and resume my duties on June 24.

I would like to request that you approve my submission at your earliest convenience so I can complete any documents and sign any forms with the Human Resources department.

Thank you very much in advance.

Yours truly,
John Smith

This letter is succinct, professional and, most important of all, to the point.

7. Offer documentation upon submission

This relates to perusing your employer’s policy, but it would be prudent for you to find out what type of documentation you may need when you request time off. What you want to do is offer a doctor’s note which states when the child is due, or his or her approximate due date. Or, if you are applying after the birth of your kid, you can offer a copy of the actual birth certificate.

And, in the event of adoption, you can provide a letter that states the date of a child’s placement in your care.

8. Do a few practice runs

Here is something your boss will probably love: Doing a few practice runs. But wait! What does this even mean?

Well, instead of putting your pedal to the medal once your paternity leave is over, you can ease back into work by going into the office for an hour or two or getting in touch with your manager. Ultimately, you are going through the motions to help you get physically and mentally prepared for life returning to normal again after two weeks of complete change (midnight feedings, getting up all night and having fights, err, conversations with your spouse).

So, wake up early, take a shower, head to the local coffee shop and order your soy latte with an extra shot and cream, and go to the office.

One more thing: If your boss does not allow for this to happen, you can still do a couple of trial runs. Indeed, you can still wake up early, get ready for work, buy your expensive coffee and head over to work. And then return home.

9. What you need to know about surrogacy and adoption

For countries that already have mandated parental leave programmes, many of these policies include adoption and surrogacy. But different countries maintain different policies.

In the United Kingdom, for example, you have the right to two weeks’ paternity leave if you are adopting a child. However, you are required to submit a notice to take paternity leave within seven days of being matched with a child for adoption. The British government has also allowed two weeks’ paternity leave for the intended parent(s) in a surrogacy arrangement.

The US government has only recently instituted a federal parental leave programme, but the details are still being ironed out. For now, the matter is being referred to the private sector, and many larger employers have been offering paid maternity and paternity leave for parents of adopted children or surrogacy arrangements. Walmart, for example, is not only offering paid time off, but it is also covering a part of the adoption cost, and this does include single adoptive fathers.

In recent years, many countries have instituted paid paternity leave programmes to ensure fairness, equity and economic responsibility for working parents. With studies finding that caregiving should be equal instead of one parent taking on more of the responsibility than the other, the broader economy is adapting to changing opinions. And, if public policy refuses to adapt to the evolution of our society, private companies are stepping up.

For example, when the US government slashed the corporate tax rate, Corporate America imposed family planning benefits, from paid maternity leave to adoption coverage. While maternity has been far prevalent worldwide for years, paternity will soon become the new norm.


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 13 August 2018.