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.
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.