Employer 'Hounding' Worker for His Baby's Birth Certificate Sparks Debate

A post about an employer "demanding" a worker share his newborn son's birth certificate has gone viral on Reddit with 13,000 upvotes.

In a post shared under the username Comfortable_Area3910, the worker wrote: "My employer is demanding my newborn's birth certificate even though I didn't take paternity leave (because my employer doesn't offer it).

"More than anything I want to know why HR [human resources] is hounding me for it. I took a week of paid vacation off [work] for when he was born," the poster explained.

Man holding baby in arms at home.
A stock image of a man holding a baby in his arms in a nursery room. An employee who takes leave for the birth of his child cannot choose whether his time off is counted as vacation or paternity leave, but “they run concurrently," an attorney told Newsweek. iStock / Getty Images Plus

In April 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) looked into the issue of parental leave. Out of 41 countries, the U.S. is the only one that does not provide any government-mandated paid leave for new parents.

The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows "eligible employees of covered employers" to take "unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave," states the U.S. Department of Labor website.

These specified reasons include "the birth of a child and to care for the newborn within a year of birth." Those eligible are entitled to 12 working weeks of leave in a 12-month period, the labor department says.

According to OECD Family Database page, updated in December 2022, "paid parental leave recipient rates are generally much lower for men." In most OECD countries, "fewer than 50 men claim publicly administered parental leave benefits or use publicly administered parental leave for every 100 live births."

The user in the latest post wrote that he received a call from a woman from the human resources department a few days before he was going to take his paid vacation. She said "word got to her" that he's having a baby.

"She said I'm eligible for FMLA and she'd just need my son's birth certificate. I said I wasn't planning on taking unpaid leave, her response was 'well, send it anyway, you never know'," the user explained.

He wrote that it's been four weeks since he returned to work, and the HR department is allegedly "still hounding" him for the certificate. "I'm starting to suspect my employer gets some sort of tax break if they categorize my paid vacation as FMLA leave. What gives?"

The user wrote that he is not on his employer's insurance plan. However, he and his son are covered under his spouse's cover with a different employer. He added that the company that the mother works for gave her 10 months of maternity leave.

Do Employers Get Tax Breaks for Employees' FMLA Leave?

Lauren Paxton is a partner at the Calcagni & Kanefsky law firm based in New York and New Jersey. She regularly advises employers on leave issues.

Paxton told Newsweek that, as the worker in the latest Reddit post guessed, "employers may be eligible for federal tax credits under Section 45S of the Internal Revenue Code when providing paid family and medical leave to employees. The tax credit is calculated as a percentage of wages paid to the employee during FMLA leave."

You Can't Choose to Count Your Leave as Vacation or Paternity Leave

Paxton said: "FMLA-covered employers have an obligation to let employees know if they are eligible for FMLA leave, even if the employee did not request FMLA leave in the first place."

Reid Wakefield is an associate attorney in the labor, employment and employee benefits group at the Mirick O'Connell law firm based in Massachusetts. He told Newsweek: "While the employee may believe he did not take paternity leave, under the law, by taking vacation due to the birth of his child, he did. Using vacation time for a reason for which leave is required by law qualifies as protected leave."

Wakefield explained that the Reddit poster cannot choose whether his leave is counted as vacation or paternity leave, but "they run concurrently."

Employers Are Required to Document FMLA Leave

Paxton said that, once an FMLA-covered employer receives information that the employee could be eligible for such leave, "the employer may be obligated to notify the employee of their eligibility, and designate whether the time off will be considered FMLA leave—all within a matter of days."

Therefore, human resources personnel will often try to gather FMLA eligibility information from employees with "a degree of urgency," Paxton said. "There are real consequences for employers that do not timely and properly comply with the federal requirements, including potential liability for monetary losses and equitable remedies."

Wakefield said the employer is likely requesting the birth certificate to "document the compliance with state and/or federal leave laws."

Once an employer is made aware that an employee needs or has taken leave for a qualifying reason, "it is required by law to designate that leave as FMLA leave." If an employer "fails to designate the leave as FMLA-protected, it can be found in violation of the law," Wakefield said.

He added that it's also in the best interests of the employer to document an employee's need for leave to limit the amount of protected leave it grants. Employees are entitled to a limited amount of FMLA-protected leave per year.

"If the employer allowed an employee to not designate their leave as FMLA-protected, it could be required to provide more leave than legally required," Wakefield explained.

Baby's foot being stamped on birth certificate.
A stock image of the bottom of a baby's foot being stamped onto a birth certificate. A post about an employer "demanding" an employer to share his baby's birth certificate after taking leave for the birth of his son has gone viral on Reddit. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Is the Employee Required to Share the Birth Certificate?

Wakefield said: "While an employer may not request certification for leave to bond with a child as it could in the case of leave for a serious medical condition, it may at minimum request documentation to confirm the family relationship between the employee and the child." This can include a birth certificate.

Wakefield added that, according to guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, this requisite can be met with "a simple statement asserting that the requisite family relationship exists, or other documentation such as a child's birth certificate or a court document. It is the employee's choice whether to provide a simple statement or other documentation."

The laws regarding leave for childbirth and child bonding vary by state. So, depending on the state, "the employee may be required to provide a birth certificate," the attorney added.

"All that being said, if an employee is comfortable that their leave may not be protected, there is likely to be little consequence to a refusal to provide the requested documentation," Wakefield said. "However, if there is no state law that requires a birth certificate as documentation, the employee could offer the employer a short written statement confirming the child's relationship to them and the birthdate."

The latest viral post sparked debate among users on Reddit.

User lorddoa posted: "It sounds like a bad HR rep who always gets a birth certificate as part of the process but doesn't truly understand why...they're simply going down a checklist that tells them what to do..."

SainTheGoo wrote: "My guess is they want to categorize it as both vacation and FMLA, which technically lowers the amount of FMLA he could take for the rest of the year. It's probably done more for compliance than malice, but I don't think they can force you to categorize your vacation as FMLA."

User Redd_October added that the original poster should "definitely demand, via email so it's in writing, that they explain exactly why they need that, because 'You never know' is not even close to good enough. Then, absolutely don't give it to them, because we all know there is no good reason for it."

Newsweek has contacted the original poster for comment via the Reddit messaging system.

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