Equality in Parental Leave Policies

Parental leave policies can be a complicated topic for some organizations, from a cultural and from a compliance perspective. In New York State, both parents can take time to bond with a newborn or adoptive child. Organizations may have been providing paid time off prior to the New York Paid Family Leave, but are having difficulty with merging their own policies with the state’s law. Some organizations have eliminated their maternity leave policy and replaced it with parental leave, which is more inclusive. However, other organizations seek to distinguish between the two and only allow maternity leave believing that a baby primarily needs their mother, although studies show that both parents play an integral role in the development of a healthy child.

Maternity and paternity leave are differentiated by using the terms primary caregiver vs. secondary caregiver, with primary caregivers typically given more time to spend with their child and sometimes more paid time off. Distinguishing between maternal and paternal caregiver is discriminatory and an unacceptable practice on many levels. In today’s world, we no longer think in terms of primary caregiver vs. secondary caregiver. As a working mother, I needed my partner’s help and my partner wanted to be equally involved as a parent in our newborn’s development. Furthermore, the notion of primary vs. secondary caregiver has no consideration for other types of caregivers, such as male or female gay couples and adoptive parents. On May 30, 2019, JP Morgan paid $5 million to settle a class action lawsuit for employees who were denied access to the same paid parental leave as mothers between 2011 and 2017. The class action was brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union who claimed that men were discriminated against when seeking parental leave.

In a time where talent acquisition is more challenging than it has ever been, offering equal parental leave provides reputational benefits for organizations and increases employee productivity and retention. Non-profits must stand out from large for-profit organizations that engage in corporate social responsibility and often cultivate diversity and inclusion initiatives ahead of the nonprofit community. In a few years, the millennial generation will make up 75% of the workforce, and most of them are part of a two-career household. The more help each parent gets from the other, the more likely the other will return to work.

As we move to improve gender equality, consider implementing the following at your organization:

  1. Expand paternity policy to match maternity policy – call it instead parental leave.

  2. Help leadership understand and support parental leave – move away from stereotyping what a male vs. female role plays in the upbringing of a child.

  3. Build a culture that supports equal parental leave – encourage men to take leave and educate line managers so they can be supportive.

Key Takeaway: Treat mothers better by allowing them to recover from childbirth using disability leave. Employers cannot treat parents differently when it comes to bonding with a child and must provide equal pay leave to ALL parents or risk a gender discrimination claim.

Hillary Rau and Joan C Williams wrote it simply in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article; “When it comes to leave for new parents, you need just two simple categories: disability leave for women who are physically unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, and parental leave that’s equally available to all employees, regardless of gender or caregiver status.”