The UK’s Shared Parental Leave law was intended to encourage working parents to more evenly split up the burden of caring for infant children by allowing new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Since being enacted in April 2015, however, the SPL policy has failed to garner much uptake: The latest research shows that even though plenty of parents are taking leave, just a few took advantage of this policy last year, Emily Burt reports at People Management:
[F]igures published by law firm EMW found that, while 661,000 mothers and 221,000 fathers took maternity and paternity leave in the year to March 2017, only 8,700 parents took SPL. “Many new parents are unclear about how the system will work for their families and careers,” warned Jon Taylor, principal at EMW. “Fathers in particular could be concerned about coming across as less committed to their job if they ask for greater flexibility, deterring them from looking into it.” …
Separate figures obtained by People Management in June revealed that fewer than 7,500 men had taken SPL in the past year, with experts suggesting that they had been deterred by the ‘complexity’ of the rules. Meanwhile, CIPD data from December 2016 found that just 5 per cent of new fathers had opted to take SPL.
Previous studies have shown persistently low take-up of this benefit, which has left architects of the policy and advocates of mainstreaming paternity leave scratching their heads as to why it hasn’t caught on. The hundreds of thousands of fathers taking parental leave suggests that the problem is not one of insufficient demand.
Over the past few years, we have seen a growing number of organizations in the US and around the world introduce or expand parental leave benefits for new fathers in their workforce, as well as new mothers, in response to increasing demand for paternity leave and greater work-life balance for working parents in general, particularly among millennials who are starting families. Recent court cases both in the US and in the UK have advanced the argument that granting more parental leave to mothers than to fathers (beyond the additional medical leave to which women who have just given birth are entitled) constitutes gender discrimination.
These lawsuits point to the increasing importance of paternity leave in employee perceptions of their total rewards packages. Our research at CEB (now Gartner) shows that employees are sensitive to changes in both maternity and paternity leave. However, increasing paternity leave actually has a slightly greater impact on employee perceptions of rewards than increasing maternity leave, likely because paternity leave is rarer and more variable across companies.
As a forthcoming benchmark report on employee rewards preferences will show, employees globally also tend to get more utility out of lower levels of paternity leave than maternity leave. That is, employees are more sensitive to an additional two weeks of paternity leave than they are to the same additional amount of maternity leave.
Yet this does not mean that maternity leave is not valuable or important!
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an employee at the beauty products manufacturer Estée Lauder Companies, accusing the company of discriminating against male employees by awarding different amounts of paid parental leave to mothers and fathers, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, the EEOC is acting on behalf of a stock worker in Maryland, who sought to take advantage of the child-bonding leave benefit Estée Lauder offers to new mothers and was given just two weeks of leave as opposed to the six weeks mothers receive (on top of the time they are allowed to take off to recover from childbirth). New mothers also allegedly are offered flexible return-to-work benefits that are not available to fathers.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC is arguing that this policy violates the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and demanding back pay, damages, and injunctive relief for the stock worker and other male employees affected by the policy. US employers are not required by law to offer paid parental leave, but for those that do, the commission’s official position is that these benefits should be equally available to parents of both genders, except for medical leave benefits related to pregnancy and childbirth, which of course can be reserved for women.
In another discrimination complaint filed with the EEOC in June, JPMorgan Chase employee Derek Rotondo claimed that the bank’s parental leave policy discriminated against him and other working fathers by “relying on a sex-based stereotype that mothers are the primary caretakers of children.” JPMorgan Chase offers different benefits to “primary” and “secondary” caregivers—and according to Rotondo’s allegations, automatically designates mothers as primary caregivers but requires fathers to meet a set of eligibility criteria. The EEOC has not yet taken legal action on Rotondo’s behalf, but this case again reflects the growing pressure on companies not to discriminate between mothers and fathers in their parental leave policies.
The number of stay-at-home fathers in the US increased in the aftermath of the last recession, as many men were thrown out of work and became unemployed for long periods of time. In recent years, however, more American men are taking on stay-at-home parenting roles because they want to, rather than because they can’t find work, Preeti Varathan reports at Quartz:
Since 1970, the share of stay-at-home dads not looking for work in the US rose from less than 1% to about 4% of all married fathers with a child under 18. It used to be the case that many more stay-at-home dads were actively seeking work, but in the past five years many more fathers are choosing to stay at home with their kids.
To be clear, although their numbers are on the rise, the share of men staying home by choice lags far behind women. While 4% of dads chose to leave the workforce and stay at home in 2016, defined as a dad with a working partner and a child under 18, 28% of mothers did the same. … Although some stay-at-home dads would rather be working, since 2012 a clear majority stay home by choice, and many are energized to be caretakers.
Other recent studies have also found that American men are increasingly interested in playing more active or primary roles in parenting their children, though the burden of child care still falls mostly on women, and men who eschew paid work to raise children are still often stigmatized for doing so.
At Lexology, attorneys Alexa E. Miller and Noreen Cull of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP discuss a charge filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June by JPMorgan Chase employee Derek Rotondo, who claims that the bank’s parental leave policy discriminated against him and other working fathers by “relying on a sex-based stereotype that mothers are the primary caretakers of children”:
According to the charge, Mr. Rotondo requested primary caregiver leave prior to the birth of his child to take advantage of J.P. Morgan’s generous parental leave policy which offers “primary caretakers” 16 weeks of paid leave to care for and bond with a new child. “Non-primary caretakers” are afforded 2 weeks of paid leave under the policy. Mr. Rotondo claims that the company’s human resources department explained that mothers are presumed to be the primary caretakers and that he would only be considered the primary caretaker (and receive 16 weeks of paid leave) if he could demonstrate that his wife had either returned to work or was medically incapable of caring for the child. Women, on the other hand, are automatically designated as the primary caretaker without satisfying the same eligibility criteria, according to the charge. Mr. Rotondo was unable to qualify as the primary caretaker because his wife, a teacher, was on summer break and in good health.
Some employers utilize “primary” and “secondary” caregiver labels in parental leave policies to promote gender neutrality. The challenge for such employers, however, is how to define and designate who is the primary caregiver without making gender-based assumptions. This approach can also lead to inconsistent application of benefits for varying family dynamics.
Many US organizations that used to only offer parental leave to birth mothers have expanded them in recent years to enable new fathers to take paid leave as well (as well as to accommodate same-sex couples and those who become parents through adoption and surrogacy), but some of these organizations’ policies still offer disparate benefits for “primary” and “secondary” caregivers. Campbell Soup Company, for example, rolled out a new policy last year that is gender neutral, as is JPMorgan’s, insofar as it does not distinguish between mothers and fathers, but it does grant different amounts of leave to primary and secondary caregivers.
In a post on his public Facebook account on Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he plans to take two months of paternity leave when his second daughter is born. Zuckerberg made headlines in 2015 when he announced that he would take two months off after the birth of his first daughter Max, and shortly thereafter expanded Facebook’s generous parental leave policy to employees around the world. That policy gives all full-time employees, regardless of their gender, up to four months of leave, which they may take at any time in the first year after their child is born or adopted.
Zuckerberg said he would take his first month of leave as soon as the baby is born (he and his wife Priscilla Chan have not publicly disclosed her due date, but he wrote on Friday that the baby was “coming soon”), and would take the month of December off as well. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Financial Officer David Wehner will be the highest-ranking executives at Facebook in his absence.
In his post, Zuckerberg emphasized the importance of new parents—mothers and fathers alike—taking time to bond with their babies at the start of their lives. “At Facebook, we offer four months of maternity and paternity leave because studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, it’s good for the entire family,” he wrote. “And I’m pretty sure the office will still be standing when I get back.”
The 32-year-old CEO won praise for taking time off after his first daughter’s birth, and is getting similarly good press this time around, because in doing so he is setting an example of involved fatherhood and letting Facebook employees, particularly men, know that it is OK and even desirable for them to take parental leave.
Washington State has joined the handful of US states that have enacted laws requiring organizations to provide minimum paid family and medical leave benefits for their employees, the Seattle Times reports, after Governor Jay Inslee signed a bipartisan bill into law on Wednesday:
The measure offers eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious medical condition of the worker or the worker’s family member beginning in 2020, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy. …
Under the new law, both employers and employees pay into the system, and weekly benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage — which is now $1,082 — though the weekly amount paid out would be capped at $1,000 a week. Workers who earn less than the state average would get 90 percent of their income. Employees must work at least 820 hours before qualifying for the benefit.
Self-employed individuals who elect coverage pay only the employee share of the premiums, and employers with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from paying the employer share. Companies that already offer such programs can opt out, as long as they are at least equivalent to the state program.
Washington’s legislature first passed a family leave mandate a decade ago, but failed to devise a plan to pay for it until this year. The state also passed a paid sick leave law last year. Other states with family leave mandates include California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, as well as Washington, DC—though New York’s law will not take effect until next year, while the District’s mandate comes into force in 2020.