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A Postdoc's Guide to Paternity Leave
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A Postdoc's Guide to Paternity Leave

By Kathleen Flint Ehm, National Postdoctoral Association;
Amelia Linnemann, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Cathee Johnson Phillips, National Postdoctoral Association


Developed as part of the National Postdoctoral Association's NPA ADVANCE project

This guide provides general information on paternity leave for postdoc fathers following the birth of a child. It is intended as a companion guide to A Postdoc's Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity Leave.

These are general recommendations only and may not apply to your specific situation; they do not constitute legal advice. Please consult your institution regarding its leave policies and other benefits. For legal advice, please consult a qualified attorney.

Download the Guide


Table of Contents

Suggested Timeline Make a Paternity Research Plan
Postdoc Appointment Classification and Benefits Tips on Talking with your Postdoctoral Supervisor
Access to Paternity Leave Where to Find More Information at Your Institution
Creating a Paternity Leave Salary Plan Acknowledgements


Suggested Timeline


The appropriate timeline for your own planning may deviate from this due to variations in institutional practice.


Postdoc Appointment Classification and Benefits


Postdocs working at U.S. research institutions have a range of appointment classifications that vary from institution to institution and often with source of postdoctoral funding. Typically the differences involve whether a postdoc is funded on an investigator/supervisor's grant or on an individual fellowship and whether he or she receives a paycheck from the institution or the funder. That in turn determines whether a postdoc is classified as an employee, a trainee, or even some special classification just for postdocs. These classifications are established by the institution and are important for determining the conditions of a postdoc's employment and thus access to benefits. Postdocs investigating their access to paternity leave will need to understand their classification first.

Access to Paternity Leave


For the purposes of this guide, paternity leave connotes time off for fathers following the birth of a child[1], and this leave period can be paid or unpaid. With the advent of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), many working fathers in the U.S. have access to at least unpaid, job-protected paternity leave. Access to a paid paternity leave entitlement, however, is much less common[2]. For postdocs, a designated paid paternity leave benefit is uncommon at most research institutions, and many postdocs are not eligible for unpaid leave under FMLA[3]. Postdoc fathers, however, may still have other leave options available to them, which are discussed in the next section.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Postdocs may be eligible for FMLA, which provides for up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected paternity leave and continued group health insurance eligibility during such leave. FMLA eligibility has certain limitations, however, such as applying only to employees of a covered institution and requiring an employee to have been employed for 12 months prior to taking leave and to have worked at least 1,250 hours over those 12 months. Postdocs should talk to their institution's human resources or postdoctoral representative about their individual eligibility.

State Programs. Some states have family leave provisions for either parent that can complement or supersede federal provisions. For a review of these programs, consult Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Parental Leave Programs (2005) from the National Partnership for Women and Families.

For more information, consult the NPA's Family-Friendly Resources for Postdocs.

Creating a Paternity Leave Salary Plan


Research your options. Even if an institution does not have designated paid paternity leave, postdoc fathers may still have access to paid and/or unpaid leave options. All these options will depend on a postdoc's source of funding, appointment classification, and his institution's policies and practices. Therefore, talk to your postdoctoral and human resources representatives about your options. Be aware that postdocs may need to talk to multiple people in order to find all the pertinent information, and since paternity leave is still an uncommon benefit, postdoc men may need to consult additional sources.

Anecdotally, some postdoc fathers elect to negotiate informal leave with their supervisors instead of going through formal channels. Postdocs considering this avenue should keep in mind that this provides fewer safeguards in the case of misunderstandings, therefore clear, detailed communication is vital. Consulting the section on "Tips on Talking with your Postdoctoral Supervisor" may be useful.

Some options that may be available:

  • Vacation or annual leave. In many cases this will be your best option for paid paternity leave, so find out how much you will have available by the time your baby arrives.
  • Sick leave. Some institutions may allow you to use sick leave for paternity leave, possibly including accompanying your partner to medical appointments before the birth and caring for her during her recovery afterward. Ask in advance about this.
  • Institutional paid parental leave program. Some institutions may have an explicit program allowing a certain period of paid parental leave, applicable to either parent, independent of leave accruals.
  • Specific leave provisions dictated by your funding source. Some grants and fellowships may have their own guidelines for paternity or family leave. Consult your paperwork.
  • Unpaid family leave. This benefit may be offered by some institutions for all primary caregivers or provided under FMLA for eligible postdocs.

Federal funding and paternity leave. For postdocs supported on investigator grants from agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) paternity leave is an allowable fringe benefit. The implementation of such leave policies, however, will vary at the institutional level. Postdocs supported on individual fellowships, such as NIH's National Research Service Award (NRSA) program and NASA's postdoctoral program, sometimes will have fellowship-specific parental leave guidelines, while others, like most NSF postdoctoral fellowships, may encourage fellows to follow their institution's typical practice. Other federal funding provisions that accommodate family-related issues, such as grant no-cost extensions and supplements for replacement technical personnel, should also be available to either parent for dependent-care needs. For additional information, consult your funding agency and talk to your institution.

NIH and NSF also offer specific guidance on these topics:

Make a paternity-leave salary plan. Expectant fathers should plan in advance how they can cobble together various methods of being paid during an official leave. Some considerations for that plan are:

  • Do any of your paid leave options require one be used before another?
  • Do you want to take your leave simultaneously with your partner or complement your partner's leave and extend the total time one of you is home with your baby?

  • Could you also extend this period by one or both of you working part-time?

Since there are likely to be fewer formal guidelines for how paternity leave is taken at your institution, be sure you have all the paperwork and approvals worked out in advance. Get it all in writing and keep copies!

For partners at the same institution. Find out if there are any limitations on leave if you both work for the same institution. For example, FMLA has a cap on the total, combined time spouses with the same employer can each take for extended family or child care leave. So, if you were to take five weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA, your partner may only take up to seven weeks of FMLA leave, for a combined total of 12 work weeks between the two of you.

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[1] Those who adopt a child may also be covered by the FMLA; we will discuss those leave options in our upcoming adoption guide 
[2] See U.S. Office of Personnel Management's Report to Congress on Parental Leave
[3] Goulden, M., Frasch, K., and Mason, M.A. and the Center for American Progress. 2009. Staying Competitive: Patching America's Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences. Berkeley Center on Health, Economic & Family Security. 16.