The Washington Post’s On Leadership blog reports that global telecomm company Vodafone is establishing a new global maternity leave policy for all 30 of its operating companies: 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, plus a 30-hour work week with no reduction in pay for the first six months after retuning from maternity leave.
This policy is very generous, and, for its American operations, is a big step in the right direction towards aligning American maternity leave policies with those around the world (something on government has been unwilling, or unable, to accomplish). However, in rolling out this policy, Vodafone should not forget about the dads. We want flexibility too. A policy that offers parental leave, or reduced work schedules, other family-related benefits to women but not to men violates Title VII on its face.
Gender-neutral policies (those that extend the same benefits to moms and dads) are not safe from legal scrutiny. These policies must be neutral in their drafting and their application. An employer cannot overtly or subversively punish a dad who avails himself of such a benefit out of some stereotyped notion that family issues are the woman’s responsibility. Sexual stereotyping is illegal sex discrimination under Title VII.
The bottom line—moms and dads deserve to have careers and families. Balancing the two is hard enough without employers piling on.