Does Your Parental Leave Policy Discriminate Against Men?

Does Your Parental Leave Policy Discriminate Against Men?

Many companies proudly state that they have an employee-friendly parental leave policy – in fact, they use the policy as a marketing tool when recruiting new workers. However, the policy may fail to recognize that gender discrimination issues cut both ways!

Recent events have made it abundantly clear that employers who think biological mothers have a greater duty towards their offspring when compared to biological fathers need to think again. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has just settled a case with Time Warner, Inc. for discriminating against a man as a biological father. The writing is on the wall for all those employers who have separate leave policies for men and women in their employ and it is time they got down to revising them.

Time Warner’s Story:

Time Warner had a progressive leave policy which provided birth mothers and adoptive parents with 10 weeks of paid time off after childbirth or adoption. But, for a biological father, the policy prescribes just 2 weeks! Whoever wrote the policy may have thought that a biological father would lack the will or skill to stay at home, change diapers, sing lullabies or do whatever it is that new parents are supposed to do. Until one father decided to question this discrimination and the rest, as they say, is history. The settlement is sealed, and the actual settlement terms in this case were not made public. Time Warner is believed to have agreed to provide additional paid time off to biological fathers who took parental leave prior to 2015.

Time Warner has subsequently made changes to its leave policy. All parents – biological mothers and fathers and adoptive parents – merit the same amount of paid leave following childbirth or adoption. Birth mothers are offered an additional few weeks as paid short-term disability leave.

Insights from this Case:

Time Warner is not alone. Many a maternity policy provides partial or full-paid leave for up to three months for biological mothers and comparable leave for newly adoptive parents; but fails to provide comparable paternity leave to a biological father. Many offer birth mothers leave beyond what is stipulated by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Your workforce management methods can benefit from the insights provided by this case:

  • There is a need to ensure that your leave policy separates and distinguishes parental leave from leave for pregnancy and childbirth-related medical conditions. The EEOC’s pregnancy discrimination enforcement allows an employer to limit leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions to women affected by those conditions.
  • Parental leave must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms. When an employer extends leave to a new mother beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth, it must provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose or be open to a charge of discrimination.
  • No parental leave policy can treat mothers more favorably than fathers or vice versa. Employers should strongly consider revising their leave policies so that parental leave is provided uniformly to all parents.

Ultimately, it cannot be disputed that well-crafted, progressive and employee-friendly parental leave policies benefit both the employer and the workers. But, the Law of Unintended Consequences can rear its ugly head in the absence of equivalent parental leave to male and female workers.

If you have reviewed your parental leave policy and caught something which could have led you into trouble, do write in and share it with us.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.