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.
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.
Mothers in Switzerland are entitled to 14 weeks or 98 days of maternity leave, paid at no less than 80 percent of their average income. In contrast to other European countries, however, Swiss employers are not required to grant paternity leave to new fathers. An initiative is underway to change that, however, and a petition to mandate four weeks of paid paternity leave has garnered the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a national referendum, Ivana Kottasová reports at CNN Money:
The initiative, launched in July, calls for 20 days of paid leave for new fathers. Under the proposal, the dads must take five days off within the first 10 days after the birth of their child. The other 15 days could be taken at any point during the first six months of the baby’s life. They would receive 80% of their average income during the leave.
The Swiss parliament narrowly rejected a similar proposal in April 2016. That decision can now be overruled by the referendum. … The average paternity leave — paid and unpaid — across the EU is just over 12.5 days, so the proposed 20-day leave would be among the most generous in Europe.
Currently, Swiss fathers are allowed to take just one or two “special days off”—a generic form of paid leave for personal matters—after the birth of a child. Organizers of the petition say opinion polls show the vast majority of Swiss citizens are in favor of paid paternity leave, and that the annual cost of the mandate would be less than 1 percent what the country currently spends on pensions each year.
Personnel Today reports on the case of a UK man who challenged his employer’s parental leave policies in an employment tribunal and won. Mr. Ali, a former Telefónica employee, had transferred to a job at Capita but remained covered by his former employer’s policies, which offered 14 weeks of enhanced maternity pay to mothers on leave but only two weeks’ leave at full pay to new fathers. His wife had returned to work not long after giving birth, based on medical advice that doing so might help alleviate her postpartum depression, leaving Mr. Ali to care for the baby. When he was told that he was only entitled to the statutory rate prescribed in the UK Shared Parental Leave law for his paternity leave beyond the first two weeks, Mr. Ali took his claim to the tribunal, which recently ruled in his favor:
Mr Ali argued that the employer’s policy assumes that a man caring for his baby is not entitled to the same pay as a woman performing that role, taking away the choice that he and his wife wanted to make for their baby. According to Mr Ali, this was not a valid assumption to make in 2016. The employment tribunal upheld Mr Ali’s sex discrimination complaint in Ali v Capita Customer Management Ltd. It accepted that men are being encouraged to play a greater role in caring for their babies.
I Wei Huang/shutterstock
The UK’s Shared Parental Leave law grants new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. The law, enacted over two years ago in an effort to encourage couples share parenting responsibilities more evenly by making it easier for fathers to take paternity leave, has suffered from frustratingly low take-up, with research finding that while many fathers want to take leave, they fear that doing so would cost their families more income than they could afford to lose, or would set them back in their careers. In the latest study, which Marianne Calnan highlighted at People Management this week, the solicitors’ firm Milners surveyed 56,000 employees and found that just 54 of them had taken SPL—less than one in 1,000:
“SPL was trumpeted as a family-friendly policy, designed to help working dads improve their work-life balance, spend more time in a ‘hands on’ role raising their family and lift the load from their partners, but our analysis suggests that there is either little appetite for it, little knowledge about it – or both,” said Simon Bass, managing partner of Milners.
“There is also some anecdotal evidence that some working dads fear discrimination, and that their career prospects may suffer if they pursue SPL, and others who are the main breadwinner in the family say it is simply not an affordable option. Both these reasons will give employers and the government important food for thought.”
The main culprit for this low take-up, solicitor John Smith argues at Personnel Today, may be that employers are much less likely to top-up shared parental leave pay as they commonly do for mothers on maternity leave: