Gender Gap Persists in Parental Leave

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

New birth fathers’ paid leave lags behind new birth mothers’ and adoptive parents of either sex, at a median of four weeks versus six weeks.

Some of the difference seen in this Bloomberg BNA survey is due to the extra time birth mothers need to recover from childbirth, but part of the gap is also due to lingering cultural expectations that women are children’s primary caregivers, observers say.

Discrimination Lawsuits

The gender gap in parental leave has led to legal challenges where the leave is based not on the extra time birth mothers require to recover from childbirth, but on the cultural assumption that mothers are the primary caregivers, Sonya Rosenberg, a partner with Chicago-based management-side law firm Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 27.

Two major employers are facing legal challenges to the way they’ve structured their parental leave policies. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the cosmetics company Estée Lauder Cos. in August on behalf of a male employee who said the company would only grant him two weeks of secondary caregiver benefits for the birth of his child.

JPMorgan is also in the crosshairs of a legal challenge to its parental leave policy. The American Civil Liberties Union in June filed a complaint with the EEOC, saying the banking company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against fathers when they ask for parental leave.

The theory in cases like these, Rosenberg said, is that offering less paid parental leave to fathers on the assumption that they aren’t the primary caregivers is sex discrimination.

While no court has ruled that this type of action by an employer is sex discrimination, Rosenberg said she would advise employers when designing parental leave policies to not assume women are always children’s primary caregivers.

The EEOC says it’s OK for employers to offer women in pregnancy and childbirth more leave for medical reasons, she said.

Parental leave should be offered “in an equitable fashion across the genders,” while allowing for the medical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, Jeff Hayes, program director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 27. Employers can help by offering temporary disability insurance to help women through childbirth, especially if the organization is on a single-bucket, paid time off leave policy, he said.

Single-Bucket Systems Less Generous

The Bloomberg BNA survey found that among those employers with PTO systems as opposed to traditional, categorized types of leave, the prevalence of both paid and unpaid maternity leave is slightly higher. That is, new mothers can expect more weeks of leave under a traditional system than under a PTO program. (The proportion of employers with traditional leave systems in the survey was 60 percent, against 38 percent with a PTO system, and 1 percent offering unlimited leave.)

“Companies sort of ratchet down the total days when they convert to a PTO system,” Hayes said. “My guess is that once it’s all in PTO, people think of it all as vacation” and therefore tend to take fewer days of sick leave and the like.

That type of reasoning can be problematic. “If I have a baby, that doesn’t mean I won’t get sick or need a vacation. So to have those other needs subsumed by parental leave is a problem,” Ellen Bravo, co-director of the Milwaukee-based advocacy coalition Family Values @ Work, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 28.

Women who undergo caesarean-section surgery to give birth get a median of two extra weeks to recover from the operation, and adoptive parents also get a median of six weeks of paid leave, the Bloomberg BNA survey found. For all parents, there is a median of 12 weeks of unpaid leave, as mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act for employers with 50 or more workers.

The survey is based on responses from 852 HR executives and professionals representing a broad cross section of U.S. employers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

For More Information

The Bloomberg BNA survey report can be purchased by visiting https://www.bna.com/guide-paid-leave-p57982088045/.

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