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Paternity leave: another fad, or the future?

Paternity leave is one of the many new issues now facing all line managers. In the past, females stayed at home to take care of the children and the household, while the male was the bread-winner. The number of women in the workforce, however, is still increasing either because a career is also important to many women, or because most households need a second income. No matter what the reason, men must participate in the household, either because they have to or because they want to be more involved. Increasingly, men want to share the task of raising their children. As Harold Goldstein, organizer of a number of men's consciousness-raising groups in Montreal states, "It was inevitable that as fathers became more intimately involved in their children's lives, paternity leave would become an issue."


While the concept of paternity leave may be relatively new in North America, by the mid-1980's many European countries already had provided state-funded leave to both men and women. Sweden, for example, gave men up to 46 days of paid leave, at 90 percent of pay. In contrast, paternity leave in Canada traditionally has been limited for those who worked in organizations governed by the Canadian Labour Code (the 10 percent of the work force employed under federal jurisdiction), child-care leave was available to either parent caring for a newborn or adopted child. Federal law allowed fathers working for government-regulated companies up to 24 weeks of unpaid leave, after the mother's 17 weeks of maternity leave was over. Public- and private-sector companies in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were required to allow male employees who met minimum service requirements, up to six weeks' unpaid leave. In Quebec they got five days off with pay. If new fathers were entitled to any leave of any kind in the private sector, it was due to a collective agreement which covered paternity leave.

Over the years, leave provisions have become more generous, so that by January 1991, most provinces had amended their Labour Standards Act to conform to the 1988 federal court ruling which increased the amount of paid leave that both new parents could receive from the Unemployment Insurance fund. Some jurisdictions now provide parental (paternity) leave in addition to the maternity leave,

The Canada Labour Code provides, in addition to the 17 weeks or maternity leave, another 24 weeks unpaid child care leave. Ontario provides 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave to each parent who has worked for the same employer for 13 weeks or more, while Quebec allows parents up to 34 weeks of unpaid parental leave, to be shared between the parents. No qualification period is required. Parents in Manitoba, have a right to 17 weeks of unpaid parental leave, provided 12 consecutive months of employment has been completed with the same employer.

The Nova Scotia government was the last to amend its Labour Standard Code, allowing in addition to the 17 weeks pregnancy leave, another 17 weeks of parental leave in the year after the child is born.

In all the provinces, when the employee returns, s/he is entitled to be reinstated in the same position, or one that is comparable. In addition, salary and benefits cannot be less than what the employee was receiving prior to the leave.


The new laws and provisions may sound ideal on paper and to those who are preparing to have a family. However, society is not quite ready to accept them and is putting a great burden on the fathers who want to take advantage of paternity leave.

Many people in today's society still believe that child-rearing is a woman's job. As Suzanne Alexander states in a Globe and Mail article: "some people question the idea of a man, who has been through no physical hardship, staying at home with a baby while his wife, who has been through months of physical strain, goes back to work." Many men can put these comments behind them when the couple is deciding who will take the extra leave. What turns out to be a greater concern, is the fear of what leave taking may do to a career. Many men, hoping to move up the "corporate ladder," fear that taking the leave available to them will inhibit, or even eliminate their chances of advancement.

John Wittkamp, a 32-year-old operations consultant at London Life Insurance Co. in London, Ontario states:

"A man's desire to stay home with his family is not fully respected by senior management in most firms today ... It flies in the face of this masculine image that a businessman is supposed to be a hard-driving, work-first, family-second kind of person. A woman can take time off, but if a man wants to, he's seen as not being fully committed to the organization.

In fact, several people told him he was putting his career in jeopardy when he first asked for paternity leave.

A 32-year-old senior vice president of a bank who wanted to remain anonymous, said that he was afraid to take time off when his daughter was born - even though his wife earned more money than he did, and his company would have allowed him to take three months off. He states: "I'd never be able to regain the ground that I would lose in my career during that time ... and even more important, I'd always be seen as the guy who doesn't really want to compete."

Peer pressure also helps perpetuate the belief that paternity leave unfairly burdens co-workers with extra work. What often happens, is that management does not replace the father who takes paternity leave. Rather, the department will assign his work to co-workers, expecting them to do it in addition to their own chores. Many employees, therefore, contend that paternity leaves are disruptive to the workplace. There is even some resentment when women take time off.

There are, however, external factors that affect a man's decision to take paternity leave:

(a) In some cases, the spouse's salary is higher than that of the father, making it financially beneficial that he take the leave.

(b) In certain situations, both parents need to be home because there are two or more children in the household when the newborn arrives. In such a case, it is necessary, for the sanity of all, that both mom and dad stay home. According to a 4l-year-old mechanic whose wife gave birth to their fourth son, staying home was not a matter of her wanting help, but needing it.

(c) Finally, fathers may want to share the pleasure and responsibility of child-rearing. As one participant put it: "as a male, I want to be able to have the same pleasure in raising children as women have ... I want to be able to fully participate in my family. We are also committed to sharing the responsibility of raising our two children."

A route that many fathers take in the private sector is, rather than taking the paternity leave available to them, they take their vacation time or a short leave of absence. Males who work in the public sector, or in an organization in which the union has negotiated a paternity leave clause, need not disguise the intentions as often as private sector workers. The reason is that the policies favouring paternity leave are more entrenched in the public sector,and are more widely accepted.

The new laws and provisions also cause problems to those managing organizations. Not only must they rearrange schedules to ensure that the work gets done, they need to deal with the resentment felt by the remaining employees. These issues are especially acute in smaller businesses with only a limited staff. Many managers of smaller organizations feel the legislation was designed for large companies. As a spokesperson for the Federation of Independent Business, suggests: "If you are General Motors ... if you are IBM, you can handle this ... But for some smaller ones, this is going to be a big problem ... It was designed for larger business without regard for ... firms that have fewer than five employees. Small businesses are having a tough time recruiting skilled labour and the loss of even one employee ... will mean a substantially heavier workload for other workers."

Larger companies sometimes will maintain a pool of temporary workers that they can bring in when someone goes on leave. Another way to deal with a person out on leave is to identify an employee who is willing to take on the absent employee's work, and pay him/her an extra salary.

While these solutions may work for lower-level positions, it is more difficult to fill managerial jobs. What has commonly happened in such situations, is that before going on leave, the person will arrange the workload to make it as easy on his colleagues as possible. In one particular case, the person who was out on leave made a point of going to the office once a week to ensure that everything was running smoothly. Another arranged with each of the three district managers to take over the work for two months during the six-month leave. That way, no one was overburdened for long.


The issue of paternity leave is still fairly new and relatively few fathers are taking advantage of it. At present, therefore, these absences are not creating major problems for large numbers of organizations. The future, however, may see a different pattern, because staying at home does not just benefit the new father, but also benefits women in the workforce. When one male began his fight for UIC benefits, he stated that the,

"case is a fight for women's

rights as well as men's. I believe

women should have any barriers

against their full participation

in society removed. Women will

never be able to take full advantage

of the opportunities

available to them in the workplace ... unless

they are relieved

of having to bear the full responsibility

of childraising."

Parenting leave, then, actually may begin to eliminate the barriers that still exist against hiring women. If men begin to use the leave available to them, employers can no longer think that if they hire women they will eventually go on maternity leave, because both sexes will share. Employers may be forced to regard maternity/paternity leave as a way of life and learn to work with the disruptions as a normal part of doing business.

At present, however, the prevailing point of view is that the male continues to progress with his career and if anyone takes time out, it's the mother. Women feel uncomfortable if they don't stay at home, men feel like malingerers if they do. Not until attitudes change, will parents have the freedom to make rational decisions instead of guilty ones. Although hard economic times generally retard the process of social change, paternity leave is not just another fad, it is an issue that will continue to occupy both the political and the corporate agenda.

Dr. Phillip Wright is Associate Professor of Human Resources Management at the University of New Brunswick. For the past 10 years he has served as Academic Dean of the Canadian Institute of Management. He has conducted management development seminars in Canada, the United States, China and Hong Kong. Josee Guidry has recently graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration and plans to continue her education in the near future. She has an interest in pursuing a career in the field of Human Resources/Industrial Relations.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Canadian Institute of Management
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wright, Phillip C.; Guidry, Josee
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Jun 22, 1992
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