Thursday, September 17, 2015

Leave policies should apply equally across genders … but must they?

The New York Times reports that CNN has settled an EEOC charge brought by a former correspondent, who claimed that the company’s paid parental leave policy discriminated against biological fathers.

At the time Mr. Levs’s daughter was born, in October 2013, CNN offered 10 weeks of paid leave to biological mothers and the same amount to parents of either gender who adopted children or relied on surrogates. By contrast, the company offered two weeks of paid leave to biological fathers.

Mr. Levs, whose daughter was born five weeks prematurely, already had two young children. He said he felt he needed to spend more time at home sharing in caregiving responsibilities with his wife. He filed his charge when the company refused to grant him more paid time off.

Optically, there is a lot of appeal in a male employee claiming discrimination when a female employee receives more paid leave after the birth of a child. On its face, it certainly looks discriminatory. But, is such a policy really sex discrimination?

There is one key difference between women and men when they welcome a new-born child. Women give birth; men don’t. A women is not medically ready to return to work the day following childbirth; a man is. Indeed, current medical guidelines suggest that women take six weeks off from work following a vaginal delivery, and eight following a C-section. Adoptions also provide different challenges to a couple, including adjusting to new family member without the buffer of a nine-month pregnancy.

While employers should offer equal leave allotments to men and women, before we jump the legal gun we need to consider that there might be an explanation other than discrimination that justifies different treatment between the sexes.