In last week’s blog, I highlighted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he’ll be taking 2 months off work following the birth of his daughter later this year (even though, presumably, he would be entitled to 12 weeks under the FMLA, and 4 months under Facebook’s policy).
Well, paternity leave has hit the news again. Just yesterday, the EEOC sued Estée Lauder in federal court in Pennsylvania alleging that the company’s parental leave policy discriminates against men in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.
According to the EEOC, female Estée Lauder employees are eligible for, among other benefits, up to 6 weeks of paid maternity, adoption, and primary caregiver leave, as well as a transition back-to-work benefit comprised of flexible scheduling and possible work-from-home arrangements. On the other hand, absent a surrogacy situation, biological fathers generally are eligible for up to 2 weeks of paid secondary caregiver leave and are not eligible for transition back-to-work benefits.
The Acting District Director of the EEOC’s Washington field office commented that it’s “wonderful” for companies to provide paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements, but federal law requires equal pay and benefits for equal work.
The EEOC’s enforcement action should act as a reminder that EEO laws are “sex neutral” when it comes to maternity and paternity leave polices. FMLA rights extend equally to eligible men and women who take leave to care for a newborn child and for adoption or foster care. And, while many employers provide benefits that go beyond those required under the FMLA (such as the paid leave and back-to-work policies at issue in the Estée Lauder case), those benefits, too, must be “sex neutral.”
This is a good time to review your formal, written leave policies and your informal practices so that you don’t find yourself in Estée Lauder’s shoes.