As of this month, US employees of the Estée Lauder Companies can take advantage of an expanded range of family benefits, including 20 weeks of paid parental leave for all new parents, regardless of their gender or whether they became parents through birth, adoption, or foster placement. Birth mothers are entitled to an additional six to eight weeks of paid maternity leave, while employees seeking to become adoptive parents can request up to $10,000 in aid for adoption fees. Business Insider’s Leanna Garfield passed along more details of the new policy when it was announced late last month:
Both hourly and salaried employees are eligible, as long as they work at least 30 hours per week and have been with the company at least three months. Before the change, Estée Lauder offered 12 weeks of paid parental leave. The company will continue to offer up to $20,000 per year toward fertility treatments, as well as child or elder care at a reduced rate to eligible workers.
In addition, the company is launching a back-to-work transition program for new parents. As part of this six-week program, Estée will give parents flexibility on where and when they work. For example, a new mom could work from home a few days per week if she chooses, or a dad could adjust his schedule in that he comes in earlier and leaves earlier than the usual 9 to 5. And those who qualify for Estée’s new childcare/eldercare program expend a co-pay of $8 an hour.
Estée Lauder is framing this new benefit offering as a recognition of the fact that not all families are formed in the same way and that employees need more individualized options for starting their own. “We don’t want to dictate what their families should look like,” Latricia Parker, Estée Lauder’s Executive Director of Global Benefits, told Business Insider.
The vast majority of US employees at the cosmetics giant are women and its former parental leave offering heavily favored mothers. Last year, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Estée Lauder over gender disparities in its child-bonding leave benefit and its previous flexible return-to-work benefits, which were not available to new fathers. These policies, the EEOC argued, were in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The parties to the suit reached a “settlement in principle” at the end of February, of which the company’s new policy is likely a part.
The notion that parental leave policies directed primarily at mothers are discriminatory against men has also been the subject of a series of lawsuits in the UK, where the Shared Parental Leave law prescribes a statutory minimum level of pay for new parents on leave, which employers customarily top up for mothers. So far, the UK’s employment tribunals have inclined to say that enhanced pay for maternity leave, which recognizes the physical demands of childbirth and birth mothers’ need for rest and recovery, is not directly discriminatory against fathers, but that may suffer indirect discrimination as a result of unequal parental leave policies.
Nonetheless, legal considerations are not the only reason why more employers are adopting gender-neutral parental leave policies that offer the same benefits to both mothers and fathers and to both adoptive and birth parents. Providing robust parental leave for all employees regardless of gender is more inclusive of LGBT families, for one thing, and also helps women in the workplace, first by encouraging parents to share child care responsibilities more evenly and second by combating the professional stigma working mothers face when they take parental leave. Employees are also demanding these benefits at greater rates, with millennial dads expecting to play a more active parenting role than their own fathers and to take time off from work to bond with a new baby.