Should parental leave cover fathers?

Parental leave is supposed to cover more than just mothers, but does it?

Parental leave policies are designed to offer employees with an important benefit: the chance to bond with their children. This benefit is one that should be enjoyed by mothers and fathers alike. Unfortunately, not every employer treats both parents equally when it comes to bonding with children.

Is it legal for an employer to provide more bonding time to a mother than to the father?

First, it is important to make the distinction between bonding time and healing time from the birthing process. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) specifically stated in its enforcement guidance publication from 2015 that leave related to the birthing process could be limited to women. However, leave related to the bonding process or care of an infant "cannot lawfully fail to provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose."

The need for equality between mothers and fathers when it comes to bonding was recently tested in a lawsuit. The EEOC filed suit against the hair and skin care giant Estee Lauder. The alleged that the company implemented and administered a paid parental leave program that discriminated against male employees. More specifically, the suit states that the program provided female employees with a longer period of child bonding time than male employees. A father challenged the program, requesting the same amount of bonding time provided to mothers under the program. The employer denied the request. The EEOC was notified and promptly filed suit.

The EEOC notes in a press release specifically addressing this lawsuit that discriminatory practices based on gender is a top priority. As such, similar claims are likely in the future.

What options are available for victims of gender discrimination?

Victims of gender discrimination often have legal remedies at both the state and federal levels. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that specifically addresses the protections available to those who are having children. It requires employers provide eligible employees with job-protected leave for qualifying family events. This can include the birth, adoption, care and fostering of a child. A failure to comply with this law can result in legal action, as showcased in the above case involving Estee Lauder.

California also offers protection at the state level through the California Family Rights Act. It is important to note that these protections can have a time limit. Federal claims, for example, must generally be raised within two years of the action that led to the claim. These claims can extend beyond care of a child to offer protections for time off to attend to a spouse, sibling, domestic partner or other family member that needs care. If a request for leave was denied, it is important to contact an experienced sex discriminations attorney to discuss your options. This legal professional can help review your claim and determine if the denial is based in discrimination. If so, your lawyer can guide you through the legal process to help ensure your rights are protected. If successful, legal remedies can include forced compliance, back pay and damages.