Will paternity leave hurt your career?

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Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have an employee out on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). His wife had a baby, and he opted to take the full twelve weeks of leave. I know this is the law, and we are holding his job for his return.

However, he's on leave during performance review time. Bonuses are based on these reviews, and some of the management team feel like he doesn't deserve a bonus because of taking 3 months off. Do we have to give him a review? Can we skip giving him a bonus? 

Simple answer? No. You cannot withhold a bonus because someone took legally allowable time off.

I suspect that if this was a woman taking maternity leave, the conversation about withholding the bonus would have never even come up. There is a stigma that men face when taking paternity leave, paid or unpaid. Somehow there is a perception that they don't care about their jobs or their coworkers.

And that perception is reinforced by the fact that very few men take significant amounts of parental leave. Less than 1 percent take more than 4 weeks, according to a Boston College study. So, it's not at all unusual that some bosses don't want to treat men who take parental leave as dedicated employees.

When an employee takes leave under FMLA for any reason (new baby, taking care of a sick family member, broken leg, or one day off a week for cancer treatments) you have to evaluate the employee based only on the days when he is working.

This means that even though the employee didn't get as much work done as his coworkers who didn't take any time off, you cannot hold that against him.

Let's say that the employee is in sales. You cannot look at his total sales for the year and say, "Nope, didn't meet targets! No bonus for him!" Instead you have to look at it this way: "If the year was only 9 months long, what would the targets have been? Did he meet those?" If the answer is yes, then he gets the bonus.

Now, if bonuses are based on salaries, you pay based on salary. But, a better way to base bonuses are on actual money earned. So, if his salary was $1000 a week ($52,000 a year) and the FMLA leave was unpaid (which most are), then he would have earned $40,000 this year. ($52,000-$12,000 for the weeks on leave.) When you calculate his bonus, if he's earned a 10% bonus, it can be calculated based on the earned money rather than the stated salary. Of course, you can only do this is you're fair and do this across the board.

The other thing you have to do is give him any raise he would have received had he not been out on leave. You don't have to give it to him until he comes back to work, though. So, if annual increases are scheduled for January 1, and he doesn't come back to work until February 1, his raise can be effective February 1.

When you're thinking about how to handle these FMLA leaves, remember the law needs to be followed. Any type of punishment for taking a legally protected leave can count as "retaliation" and can get your company in a boatload of trouble.

So be fair, and give the guy his bonus. He's earned it.

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Have a workplace dilemma?  Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.