Q: I am in my early 20s and recently accepted a position working for an elected official. However, I did not mention before accepting that I’m expecting to become a father soon after I start work. The mother-to-be is a recent graduate who lives with her mother. She will be watching the child primarily for at least the first three months. After that, we’re going to co-parent, depending on agreement of who will have the child primarily. I will assume most financial obligations for our child, including health insurance.
Should I have told them I am expecting a child before I accepted the offer? And if so, how do I create that conversation now?
A: A few years back, the satirical social media persona Man Who Has It All asked a similar question: “Should men planning to start a family be legally obliged to tell their employer?”
At the time, I dryly observed how nice it would be to someday receive this question in earnest. While pregnant job applicants frequently wrestle with the ethics of when to disclose their condition to prospective employers, it hasn’t seemed to be as much of a concern for nongestating parents. In fact, employers traditionally have viewed dads and dads-to-be as desirable hires — both as more dedicated to work and less likely than moms to need time off for child care.
But as your letter shows, it’s not exactly all cigars and bonuses for working dads. A majority of income-earning fathers in the United States report significant stress over work-life balance, and a recent British study confirms that growing numbers of men who ask for parental leave, flexible schedules or other family-friendly accommodations actually face a “fatherhood penalty” in reduced wages and opportunities.
The old “dads provide, moms nurture” double standard cuts both ways, to every working parent’s detriment.
To your question: Although you were under no obligation to do so, it might have been a show of good faith to say something between their offer and your acceptance, especially if you expect to ask for time off to bond with your baby. But signing up for benefits gives you the perfect opportunity to broach the subject now with HR. Besides educating you on parental benefits you might not have been aware of, this conversation will establish awareness of your parental status — and that could be helpful if your boss takes the news badly, says Tom Spiggle of Spiggle Law Firm.
In the meantime, be thinking about what you need to succeed — remote access, a flexible schedule — so you can present your boss and colleagues with a game plan that focuses on how you’re going to bring the hustle at work.
New job, baby on the way, co-parenting from different homes: You’ve definitely jumped into the deep end — but I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by support from your boss and colleagues. And I hope you and your baby’s mother can find an arrangement that allows you to share the duties and delights of parenthood while pursuing individually secure and satisfying livelihoods.
Pro tip: Job protection under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies only if you’ve been in your job at least one year. But, Spiggle notes, some state and local labor laws explicitly protect parents — so do your research.