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While the U.S. may lag far behind other developed countries when it comes to mandating paid parental leave, many companies are at least catching up to the notion of offering fathers the same kind of leave options as mothers. Even the face of Facebook took time off when his daughter was born, noting: "Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families."
Some small business owners are finding that paid parental leave policies are premium selling points for their companies, while some not-so-small businesses are learning -- the hard way -- the legal ramifications of rules that distinguish between moms and dads. JPMorgan Chase is one of those businesses, and just settled scores of claims from expectant fathers who were denied the same amount of paid time off as mothers would get.
"We thank Mr. Rotondo for bringing the matter to our attention," wrote Reid Broda, a lawyer for JPMorgan Chase. Which may be PR legalese for, "And we would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling dads." The company probably thought its family leave policy was gender neutral by only distinguishing between "primary" and "non-primary" caregivers. Primary caregivers were allowed 16 weeks of paid parental leave, while non-primary partners were only provided two weeks paid time off.
But the policy was not-so-gender-neutral in practice. When Derek Rotondo asked for the 16 weeks given to primary caregivers, he was told that, "Men, as biological fathers, were presumptively not the primary caregiver." And that's a problem, at least when it comes to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's rules against gender discrimination. Rotondo filed a complaint with the EEOC, and JPMorgan agreed to change its policy and pay out $5 million to hundreds, possibly thousands of male employees who were similarly denied primary caregiver leave.
To be fair, JPMorgan didn't need to offer any paid time off for newborn children. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only requires employers offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, and even then, the FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees and the employees must have worked 1,250 hours during the previous year to be eligible. However, once a company does offer some kind of parental leave benefit, it can't offer it only to female employees.
As we noted, many other nations -- and some U.S. corporations -- have recognized the value of the time that parents, no matter their gender, can spend with children early in their lives. So, it may be time to update your small business's parental leave policy. For help, contact an experienced employment attorney in your area.
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