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In an opinion piece published last weekend, Bloomberg columnist Anjani Trivedi made the economic case for paternity leave, arguing that organizations too often overestimate the costs and neglect the financial upsides of offering parental leave to both mothers and fathers. “The real question,” she points out, “is what the cost would be of replacing that employee,” and paid leave is usually cheaper, Professor Jody Heymann of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and WORLD Policy Analysis Center, tells Trivedi. Considering that parental leave and other family benefits can have a major impact on employee retention, and that the costs of replacing an employee can rise to as much as twice their annual salary, universal parental leave policies may well save more than they cost.
The growing number of employers offering gender-neutral parental leave benefits in recent years reflects the fact that employees, whose opinions count more than ever in the tight labor markets of the US and other advanced economies today, are more sensitive to the availability of paternity leave: Our latest benefits perceptions research at CEB, now Gartner, finds that globally, an additional two weeks of paternity leave improves employee perceptions of rewards to a greater degree than the same amount of additional maternity leave.
In the US, which unlike most countries does not legally mandate paid maternity leave, employees are still more responsive to changes in leave for mothers, but even there, Millennial men who are now starting families are more interested than their fathers were in being actively involved in raising their children. However, many of these men don’t have access to paid parental leave or feel pressured by their peers, their managers, or their own financial concerns not to take advantage of this benefit even when they are entitled to it. The absence of family-friendly benefits like parental leave and flexible work arrangements already drives many working mothers out of the full-time workforce; if fathers do the same, the case for such policies becomes even stronger than it already is.
World map showing availability of government-mandated paid paternity leave (World Policy Center)
With Father’s Day just around the corner, a handful of new studies came out this week highlighting the challenges dads often face when it comes to taking time off to nurture their newborn children. While employees in many countries have come to expect maternity leave as a standard benefit, the availability, amount, and acceptance of paid paternity leave still lags. Looking at the government policy level, according to a new analysis from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are still 92 countries—including the United States—where there is no national policy mandating paid paternity leave for fathers, affecting an estimated two thirds of the world’s children under the age of one.
The paternity leave data came from the World Policy Analysis Center, which has published an interactive map and chart where it can sorted by region and national income level, as well as compared against maternity leave data. Not surprisingly, the gender gap between paid parental leave policies is significant, as very few countries—including the US— don’t mandate paid maternity leave.
Most organizations do offer both maternity and paternity leave, however, and typically more than the amount required by law. Gender-neutral parental leave policies are becoming more popular as well, as are lawsuits accusing organizations of discriminating against men when it comes to unequal parental leave benefits. But when paternity leave is available, men often perceive a stigma around taking it. A new survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care of more than 1,700 US adults has highlighted this dynamic, finding that while men and women say they want to be equally involved in raising their children, men don’t feel comfortable taking paternity leave because they are worried about how prioritizing their children will be perceived by others, particularly at work:
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.
Last week, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned a lower tribunal’s ruling in favor of a father who sued for discrimination after being denied enhanced pay while taking shared parental leave, Jo Faragher reported at Personnel Today, but returned the case to the lower court to reconsider whether the father in question was a victim of indirect discrimination:
In the case of Hextall v Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police, a male worker claimed that his employer had discriminated against him because of his sex as he was only entitled to receive statutory shared parental pay, when the employer paid enhanced maternity pay. …
Mrs Judge Slade ruled that the initial tribunal had erred in applying a direct discrimination comparator (as in a woman on maternity leave) to an indirect discrimination claim, so the latter will now be heard by an employment tribunal at a future date.
This case was similar to that of Ali v. Capita Customer Management, in which the Appeal Tribunal ruled last month that the plaintiff Mr. Ali had not been discriminated against when his employer, which offered enhanced maternity pay to new mothers, told him he was entitled to the statutory rate prescribed in the UK Shared Parental Leave law for his paternity leave beyond the first two weeks.
In that case, the higher tribunal said it was an error to treat Ali’s circumstances as directly comparable to those of a woman who had recently given birth, ruling that maternity leave and enhanced maternity pay have an additional purpose of supporting the “health and wellbeing of a woman in pregnancy, confinement and after recent childbirth,” which goes beyond the purpose of parental leave generally.
Fathers in the UK who wish to play a significant role in raising their children and seek parental leave or flexibility at work to do so are still hindered by outdated assumptions about gender roles and stigmas against fathers as active parents, according to a new report from the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons. Despite the good intentions behind government efforts like the Shared Parental Leave scheme, the report says, these initiatives are not doing enough to enable fathers to work flexibly, the BBC reports:
“Workplace policies have not kept up with the social changes in people’s everyday lives,” according to committee chair Maria Miller, who describes “outdated assumptions” about men’s and women’s roles in relation to work and childcare” as a further barrier to change. …
The MPs found today’s fathers were doing a greater proportion of the childcare than ever before – but still only about half the amount women do – and men who are agency or casual workers are least likely to get flexible work that suits their childcare needs, as they don’t have access to full employment rights.
The report identifies several policy recommendations that could help improve the situation, such as advertising all jobs as flexible, augmenting rights for casual or agency workers, and improving paternity pay.
The UK’s Department for Business is making a new push to raise awareness of the Shared Parental Leave program, after finding that as few as 2 percent of eligible parents are taking advantage of it, the BBC reports:
Around half of the general public are still unaware the option exists, nearly three years after it was introduced, the government said. It now plans to spend £1.5m to better inform parents about the policy. Experts say that as well as a lack of understanding of what is on offer, cultural barriers and financial penalties are deterring some parents from sharing parental leave.
The government’s campaign will encourage parents to “share the joy” through online advertising, social media and on billboards. Business minister Andrew Griffiths said the policy meant dads didn’t have to miss out on “their baby’s first step, word or giggle”.
Nearly three years after Shared Parental Leave was enacted, the government is still struggling to get British workers to use it. Approximately 285,000 couples become eligible for the publicly guaranteed benefit each year, but by one estimate last year, fewer than 9,000 parents took advantage of it in the year prior to March 2017.
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.