Cisco updated its parental leave policy this month to make it both more generous and inclusive. The new policy, which went into effect November 1, eliminates the terms “maternity” and “paternity” leave and instead defines parents by the gender-neutral terms “main and supporting caregiver,” Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News. For US employees, “main caregivers” are now allowed 13 weeks of consecutive leave after adding a child to their family, while “supporting caregivers” are allowed four weeks. Both parents are also allowed to take paid time off for appointments, and new grandparents are now also entitled to three days of paid leave:
“We’re finding new and better ways to support our employees so they can be the best at home and at work,” says Shari Slate, vice president of inclusion and collaboration at Cisco. “The goal is that everyone feels respected and supported fairly and consistently.” The expanded caregiver leave benefit has been rolled out to 37,000 U.S. employees, while more than 33,000 additional employees globally will receive the benefit in fiscal year 2019.
Cisco’s new leave policy also includes additional time off for emergencies. The company says it recognizes that unexpected situations may arise and employees need time to give it their undivided attention. The emergency time off request, which can be for incidents like a tree falling through an employee’s roof or a family member falling ill, is approved by a manager at his or her discretion.
Cisco’s adoption of a gender-neutral policy reflects a growing demand for paid leave that applies to both mothers and fathers, as well as a realization that such policies are beneficial to families and help combat stigmas against mothers in the workplace. It also gets ahead of possible legal or regulatory changes, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been challenging parental leave policies that it sees as discriminatory for distinguishing between mothers and fathers.
At the same time, however, some observers have criticized the development of separate policies for primary and secondary (or in Cisco’s parlance, “main” and “supporting”) caregivers, arguing that the primary caregiver is generally assumed to be the mother and that this practice still reinforces the expectation that women will play a greater role in parenting than men. In fact, the legality of that distinction is at issue in another claim filed with the EEOC earlier this year, in which a JPMorgan Chase employee argues that the bank’s parental leave policy discriminates against him and other working fathers by assuming “primary caregivers” to be mothers.
Birth mothers, on the other hand, are generally entitled to more leave than their partners because of the need to rest and recover physically after childbirth. This is reflected in the legal parental leave mandates enforced in most countries, as well as in the leave policies of progressive employers like IBM, which recently announced that new birth mothers there were allowed 20 weeks of leave, to be taken any time in the first year of their new baby’s life.