Parental Leave: When Is It Daddy’s Turn?

Let's face it, the time and attention mothers devote to their babies typically outweighs the child-rearing contributions of fathers. But is it possible that employers are perpetuating this disparity by giving dads less parental leave?

Under a leave policy at JPMorgan Chase & Co., primary caregiving parents could receive 16 weeks of paid leave, while non-primary caregivers could only receive two weeks.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying the financial firm was discriminating against fathers who sought parental leave.

HR departments should take notice of this case and be prepared to explain to workers why companies offer more maternity than paternity leave, attorneys and consultants say.

When it comes to unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers that have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius are legally obligated to offer the same amount of parental leave to both sexes, Sonya Rosenberg, a partner with Chicago-based management-side law firm Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, told Bloomberg BNA.

Those employers that don’t meet that threshold “can, and often do, offer greater paid benefits to mothers than to fathers,” she said, but if that’s their practice, “they should structure their relevant policies thoughtfully” so as not to attract unwelcome attention from the EEOC.

Paid parental leave is a different matter. Employers are allowed to offer more of that type of time off to childbearing women due to the medical needs associated with pregnancy and childbirth, Rosenberg said. “The EEOC recognizes that such additional time off to birthing mothers may be appropriate, as long as it is provided for recovery and other medical reasons and not based on caregiving stereotypes.”

But time to bond with a new child should be the same for both sexes, according to Lenny Sanicola, senior practice leader at WorldatWork, a nonprofit HR association based in Scottsdale, Ariz. This type of leave “should be provided equally to all similarly situated parents,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

Another wrinkle is employee preferences. “There remains a cultural aspect to why men are not offered paternity leave at the same rate nor do they take paternity leave even when offered,” Edward Yost, HR business partner at the Society for Human Resource Management, told Bloomberg BNA.

So if a new dad asks why new moms get more paid time off, Rosenberg said, “the first go-to place should be the employer’s parental leave policy, which, if properly drafted, should indicate the legitimate and legal basis for why mothers are provided additional leave,” as well as the pregnancy-and-childbirth medical justification for the disparity.

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