With Father’s Day just past, we are mindful of greater awareness by employers that workers have a life outside of the workplace and that employee satisfaction with their jobs doesn’t stop when the workday ends. Of course the benefit of this awareness is that happy employees are often more productive employees who want to stay with the organization.
One of those benefits is more leave time, maybe paid leave, upon the birth of a child. Many employees, both male and female, are entitled to FMLA when their families grow (by birth, adoption or foster care) and some employers are looking to make that transition financially easier by offering paid parental leave in addition to or in lieu of FMLA which normally requires employees to use their banked benefit time or go without pay. No longer is it considered shirking their job obligations when dads want to spend time with their children.
The problem that sometimes arises here is that childbirth (or adoption or foster care) is still primarily focused on the mother. After all, it’s the woman who gives birth and, sadly, it’s the woman who is still generally seen as the primary caretaker of children, especially infants and young children. It is laudable when employers want to ease the transition of a new child in the family by giving an employee some paid time off; it is a formula for trouble when that paid leave is different for men versus women.
Let me be clear, this is not to say that employers cannot offer paid time off to female workers for the physical recovery after childbirth unless they offer the same paid time off to fathers. It is the paid time off that employers offer to workers for bonding with a new child and transitioning the family through the addition of a new member that should be the same.
Take for instance the claim against cosmetic giant Estee Lauder that was settled a couple of months ago. The company provided six weeks of paid time off to biological mothers to recover from childbirth as well as six weeks of paid time off to mothers (whether biological or not) to bond with the new child. Biological mothers could stack that time for 12 weeks of paid leave. Fathers received two weeks of paid time off to bond with a new child in the family. Worse yet for the company, it apparently categorized mothers as primary caregivers and fathers as secondary caregivers. The EEOC sued the company claiming that this violated not only Title VII, but also the Equal Pay Act because it afforded more benefits to female workers than male workers in the same jobs. The company reached an undisclosed settlement.
Interestingly, a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that of employers who responded, most who offered paid parental leave gave more time off for bonding to mothers, not only reaffirming the stereotype that mothers are the primary caretakers of children, but maybe violating the law. Employers should make sure that they separate disability benefits for biological mothers (time off to recover from childbirth) from paid time off for bonding with a new child. That bonding time should be the same for both female and male workers.