I wrote recently about Maternity Leave allowed under Liberia’s Decent Work Act (DWA) and received quite a few emails with questions regarding Paternity Leave and if the Act allows the same level of “generosity” accorded mothers, to fathers. This article provides a bit of clarity on paternity leave as to what is allowable under the law and what is not.
First off, what is paternity leave? Paternity leave is the time off from work given to new fathers at the birth of their child. So, back to our new law on paternity leave for Liberia. The good news is yes, fathers are given 5 days leave upon the birth of a child. (Same rules of written notice is required). If you didn’t read my last blog on the maternity leave, you can find it here.
The bad news is that the 5 days are unpaid. Yep. Bummer huh? The law states “the employed father of a child is entitled to five (5) days’ leave without pay at the time of the child’s birth, provided that his leave”. (i) May not be taken before the mother’s confinement and (ii) Shall be taken within the first month after the birth of the child, unless there are exceptional circumstances. DWA Section 20.3 In short, you CAN take Paternity leave, but it will be unpaid and it cannot be taken before she give birth and has to be within one month after she gives birth.
I got asked by someone if the time away from work could be considered paid leave if the time away is being applied to the care for others leave under section 19.4 of the Act.
My answer to that person was “no”. No because the edicts under that section clearly state “every employee is entitled to 5 days’ paid leave each year of service with their employer to provide care or support to a member of the employee’s family who requires care of support because of: (i) personal illness, or personal injury, affecting the member of the employee’s immediate family; or (ii) an unexpected emergency affecting the member of the employee’s immediate family”.
So even though the section starts off with saying that every employee would be entitled to five days’ paid leave during each year of service, the law goes on to note personal illness or personal injury affecting the member of the immediate family or an unexpected emergency….”
Birth of a child cannot be considered “personal injury” to neither the mother nor the father. Additionally, it cannot also be considered “unexpected emergency”. Neither can you take sick leave, because you will need to provide a medical report covering or excusing you from work because YOU are ill.
Like I said, bummer for dads. Fair or unfairly so, is up for debate. How do we fare compared to other countries on paid paternity leave? Times magazine states, “At least 79 countries’ national laws include paternity leave entitlements, nearly all of which are paid. The duration of the paid leaves vary greatly as well, but all are far shorter than maternity leaves, ranging from 1 day of full pay in Tunisia to 90 days of 80% pay in Iceland ” Let’s compare how paternity leave is administered in our immediate neighborhood of Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ghana. Cote d’Ivoire offers 2 weeks with full pay. No other country previously named offers paternity leave.
So it appears we are all in the same boat, so to speak. Now, back to the unpaid paternity leave for Liberia. Our culture has not been one where fathers actually take time off from work to be with the mother of their child to help her after delivery, either to support physically around the home, or morally, to just be there. Matter of fact, most fathers in Liberia tend to go back slapping and sharing cigars and sweets with friends when their wives are in labor, preferring to stay away from the screams of pain and the “ickyness” they rather not deal with. They do not normally help with the caring of the new born, nor share in the chores and responsibilities that come with having a new baby.
Is it reasonable to think that the crafters of this law took this ‘cultural context’ into consideration? On the other hand, this law will further deter fathers from spending time with their newborns, something that is key in developing that father-child bond after birth, as well as bonding the family. Taking 5 days unpaid leave would likely not be the option they might utilize. But for fathers who do wish to spend valuable time with the mother of their child upon delivery, they could still utilize accrued annual leave which is paid leave.
It has taken the government over 30 years to provide an updated Labor Law commiserate with our current realities. I wouldn’t hold my breath that this new law will be repealed or updated any time soon.
So in the meantime, do you feel this law is unfair and unbalanced? How does it affect equity and equality in the workplace? Is it good for the “Liberian family”? Does it promote cultural values? What are your thoughts? Let’s have a conversation.
About the author Brenda Brewer Moore is a Human Resource Practitioner with over 15 years’ working experience in the field of Human Resource & Office Management with an Executive Masters in Business Administration and internationally certified as a Senior Professional Human Resource Professional (SPHR) from both the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Human Resource Certificate Institute (HRCI). She lives and work in Liberia.
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