When it comes to parental leave, the U.S. lags far behind other developed countries in terms of employee rights. American employers are required to provide woefully little to employees who have children. Despite the paucity of parental leave rights, companies still find ways to run afoul of the law in establishing their policies. In many cases, the failure comes from an antiquated view of what family life really is.
The “traditional” family
All too often, family leave policies codify a 1950s view of family. Mom is expected to stay at home, caring for Junior, while Dad returns to work shortly after passing out the cigars. This view didn’t encompass real families 50 years ago and it doesn’t come close to reality today. Policies rooted in this sexist stereotyping of people by gender are not acceptable.
Equality in parenting
Pregnancy and childbirth must be distinguished from parenting. Actually giving birth is a medical event, and often a traumatizing one. Companies can and should craft policies granting women leave related to childbirth and pregnancy. Men do not have to receive equivalent leave as they are not in an equivalent position.
Men are, however, equal in their responsibility for providing care to a child. A leave policy that grants more time for women to be parents than to men is discriminatory. Estée Lauder was recently sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for just such a violation. The policy in question grants mothers six weeks to bond with their children while granting fathers only two weeks for bonding.
New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that require certain employers to provide paid family leave. Companies that choose to provide such leave voluntarily, or in excess of what the law demands, should do so on a gender neutral basis.
Source: CNN Money, “U.S. sues Estee Lauder for allegedly discriminating against new dads,” by Julia Horowitz, 31 August 2017