Men Want Their Parental Leave, Too, Damn It

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A new dad. Photo: Lucy von Held/Blend Images/Corbis

The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't require paid leave for new parents. Very few companies voluntarily provide it, and the ones that do give dads the short shrift.

While only 21 percent of U.S. companies offer paid maternity leave, an even skimpier 17 percent grant paid paternity leave, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. And now, the New York Times reports that men are suing, claiming sex discrimination for the amount of time they're offered, or because they face harassment and retaliation for taking leave at all.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines say that companies can offer longer leaves to biological mothers than biological fathers for the purposes of physically recovering from childbirth (a time frame many courts recognize as six weeks). Any leave given beyond that should be the same for both partners. In one case described by the Times, Josh Levs, a former CNN correspondent, sued the company when they refused to grant him more leave after his daughter was born prematurely. The company policy was to give ten weeks for biological mothers but only two for biological fathers. (Parents of either gender who used a surrogate or adopted a child got the ten weeks.) Levs felt he needed to be home in order to care — with his wife — for their new child and two other young children. The case was settled out of court, but, according to Levs, Turner Broadcasting, which owns CNN, now allows six weeks paid leave to all new parents, with an additional six weeks for biological moms.

Fathers also complain that when they do take the leave they are offered, they suffer repercussions. One lawyer who took paternity and family medical leave after his second child was born said his bosses withheld work upon his return and derided and eventually fired him. In his lawsuit, he said the office culture “encourages male associates and partners to fulfill the stereotypical male role of ceding family responsibilities to women.”

Ultimately, a workplace culture that stigmatizes male parents is probably not a great one for any gender. As one Boston University professor who conducted interviews at a consulting firm for a recent study told the Times, "People would say to me, 'When a man disappears from the office at 4:30 or 5, he could be meeting with a client.' But people tended to assume women were picking up their children." There is an undeniable workplace stigma regarding caring for children and as long as it's assumed that women are doing the caring, all parents will suffer.