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‘You’re Taking 8 Weeks?’ This Lawyer Dad Said Yes to Full Paternity Leave

By Thai Phi Le

June 15, 2017

In September 2014, then D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced that the city’s government workers will get equal paid family leave—up to eight weeks for new mothers and fathers to bond with their children, or for employees to attend to a sick family member. With this move, the nation’s capital became one of the primary trailblazers of progressive family leave policies.

The new policy was welcome news for Michael Aniton and his pregnant wife Megan, who were awaiting the arrival of their baby girl in May 2016. At the time, Aniton had recently taken a position as an attorney advisor with the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education. He immediately informed his office that he intended to take advantage of the full benefit: two weeks after the baby is born and another six weeks after Megan had exhausted her leave. Aniton says everyone was very supportive of his decision, but the process to get the actual time off was not as easy as he thought it would be.

Two weeks before his daughter was born, the D.C. Bar sat down with Aniton to discuss how he was preparing for paternity leave. In time for Father’s Day, we are running excepts of our Q&A with Aniton below, focusing on the impact of the District’s family-friendly leave policy and how new parents like Aniton would like to see the process improved for families to fully enjoy the benefit.

Aniton familyWalk me through your process.

The D.C. government does eight weeks of paid paternity and maternity leave. A lot of our friends who work privately and at other government agencies throughout the states don’t have that. They’re pretty jealous.

When Megan got pregnant, I anticipated only taking a couple weeks and using my own my leave for it. But when that [policy] came out, it was awesome. While that’s awesome, the process is not as easy as I thought it would be.

[Right now] when we record our time, it has classes of time. For example, you have annual leave, leave without pay, holiday pay. You click on one of these options when you’re doing your timesheet. I assumed at most, because you have to prove that you and your wife are pregnant, you might get a notice from your physician saying that the due date is x, give that to your people and there would be a dropdown in the timesheet for FMLA paid leave. Click and submit.

It turns out it isn’t that simple. Megan is using a combination of [FMLA] paid leave, short-term disability leave, and then some of her own leave to make it longer. The process is extremely long. Not only does she have to get paperwork from the physician, she’s got to get paperwork from this person, that person, insurance. It’s a whole lot of extra work.

For me, when I informed HR that my wife was pregnant and I wanted to take paternity leave, it was 8 to 10 documents to fill out. Mine is relatively easy, but what I have to submit is based on what Megan has to submit. I’m trying to submit my paperwork to prove that our family is pregnant, but I don’t have the right paperwork because my wife hasn’t finished her paperwork.

What are some of the challenges?

It’s a lot more work required than we had anticipated, especially for something that’s supposed to be a benefit to us. Megan is not the only one. I’m friends with several other ladies in the office who have gone through this process. What makes it difficult is not only a combination of the many moving parts, but [that] once they do get approved, [they have to make] sure that they stay in touch with human resources throughout their leave to make sure it is getting inputted properly into the system.

[Megan’s] thought is that she’s about to give birth. The last thing she wants to be thinking about around the due date is, “Is my leave in? Who’s going to do my timesheet?”

What if she isn’t approved by the time of her leave?

Our plan is she’ll use her annual leave to start while they’re still trying to figure it out. At some point, she’s going to be using her annual leave anyway. She also told me that there may be a period when she’s already had the kid and she hasn’t been approved yet where, apparently, she wouldn’t be getting a paycheck. I said that can’t be. It’s supposed to be paid maternity leave. Well, that’s what most people do. They will use their annual leave up front to cover that period while the government is processing the paperwork and you might have unpaid leave. It’s very complicated to me.

How would you improve that process?

I would have a form [that is] very similar to the form we fill out when we take our annual leave. Have your physician sign off on it. Attach it to your timesheet. Add a [dropdown menu for] paid maternity leave. Submit it and that’s it. It baffles me that it’s not that simple.

Is your process any different than Megan’s?

I believe mine is much less involved. I provided medical documentation to HR. Once I give [HR] the forms that Megan has already given me, we’ll have a meeting and she’ll give me more.

At the end of the day, I’ll be fine. Megan will be fine. But if you have the benefit of [parental leave], I think in your mind you think it should be relatively easy. It should feel like a benefit.

I’m a D.C. government employee and I love it. Everyone knows that there’s a lot of a paperwork and bureaucracy with the government.

Have you had backlash as a dad taking paternity leave?

Fortunately, no. My bosses have been exceedingly understanding. Most of them have kids. They get it. That being said, there certainly is that undertone. Nobody has expressly said, “Oh, you’re a dad. Why [would] you take the full eight weeks?”

There’s a chuckle from the guys, “Oh you get eight weeks as a dad! I only got two.” I think because it’s so new, when people hear I’m going to be taking eight weeks, people are still a little shocked.

I think it’s awesome.

It’s incredible. Truth be told, it is a little stressful because of the societal norm where dads aren’t supposed to be at home.

It will feel weird to take that much time off. I know that my lady friends and Megan don’t think twice about it, partially because they’re living it. They have the little nugget inside and they feel it. They’ve never expressed any issue with taking months off. They would extend it if they could.

Guys, I think, are, “Oh, eight weeks. That’s a long time.” But everyone, dads included, say, “You’re not going to get that time back. You’re not going to remember having taken eight weeks out of your year of work to spend time with your newborn.” The community and my bosses have been very supportive.

I was at a firm briefly. The pressure to bill at a firm is great. If I were at a firm taking [off] eight weeks, that would stress me out even more.

Do you think it’s easier as a government attorney to take off?

Absolutely. I’ve got a couple of friends who are independently employed. They do whatever they want. My friends who are in the private sector, I think the pressure is a lot greater. The [D.C.] government is ahead of the curve in terms of being understanding.

How are you preparing for your parental leave?

When we talked about my schedule and goals for the year, I reminded them I was taking the time off. I have an arrangement with one of my colleagues where when the baby comes, I have a nice transfer memo on my cases that need taken care of while I’m out.

Did you tell them not to call you for a certain time?

No, but it’s my own issues. I told them I will have my phone, my iPad. My wife isn’t going to be happy with that. I shouldn’t, but maybe it’s society and everything is so instant. I did not say don’t call me.