Learn why old-fashioned ideas about primary caregivers hurt organizations, and why employers stand to gain from taking another look at their parental leave policy.
The birth of a child is a cause for celebration. For employers, however, it can also be the beginning of a cause of legal action. A recent article in Harvard Business Review explains how employers “shoot themselves in the foot” by instituting “old-fashioned” parental leave policies “that undercut their recruitment and retention goals and may expose them to public relations backlash and legal liability.” The gist of the article is that employers need to do away with policies that—intentionally or not—echo bygone gender stereotypes and assume that a birth mother is the only one qualified to be her child’s primary caregiver.
According to authors Hilary Rau and Joan C. Williams, such policies don’t always appear problematic at first glance. They write:
“Even a policy that looks neutral on paper can be applied in a manner that is anything but. Imagine this scenario: A new father tells his boss that he wants to designate himself as the baby’s primary caregiver and take 12 weeks off. The boss is affronted: ‘I only took a few days off after my kids were born, and they turned out great. Twelve weeks is a long time—what will you do that whole time? Your wife will be home, won’t she? We really need you at work right now!’ Policies and practices like these are sex discrimination lawsuits waiting to happen.
The legal risks of primary-caregiver policies are not purely imaginative. JP Morgan Chase is currently under fire for its primary-caregiver policy, which the ACLU contends discriminates against fathers. JP Morgan Chase’s paid leave policy, which provides 16 paid weeks to primary caregivers and two weeks to secondary caregivers, is not unusual. Unequal leave policies for primary and secondary caregivers are widespread, a fact that has not escaped the ACLU’s notice. To reduce legal risk, companies should eliminate primary-and secondary-caregiver categories from their leave policies.”
Parental leave policies aren’t just potential legal pitfalls, but potential recruitment recruitment tools as well. Rau and Williams cite reports indicating that rates of employee engagement are higher, and rates of attrition lower, in organizations with fair, gender-neutral parental leave policies. And as more research points to the link between child care and wage disparity, it behooves every employer to consider how their parental leave policy could be moving their industry forward or contributing to greater sense of inequality.
In short: these policies are another way to mitigate liability and improve organizational performance in the same breath.
For more information about what to include in your organization’s employee handbook, and to learn more about how smarter compliance can also boost your bottom line, make sure to read our article on the topic here.