Is paid paternity leave a luxury?

Is paid paternity leave a luxury?

Fathers taking paid leave needs to become normal if gender equality is to be achieved in the workplace  

Having a child puts a huge strain on working parents, and unequal parental leave policies are exacerbating the problem. For many HR managers, regulations in place today don’t go far enough in accommodating the needs and demands of employees, and are leaving companies open to legal action. As men and women strive for equality, there is an increasing number of men who want paid paternity leave beyond the statutory two weeks given in the UK, for example. Shockingly, there is no requirement in the US for companies to give men any time off for child-rearing. Only three months of unpaid maternity leave are required to be offered for mothers. 

This means it is down to individual organisations to design their own parental leave policies, and as a recent court case has revealed, even when they appear to be reasonable they aren’t always so magnanimous. In May, JPMorgan Chase announced it was settling a class-action case brought against them by a male US employee who had been denied the 16 weeks of paid parental leave it introduced in 2016 because he was not considered the “primary caregiver”. (According to an email from HR, this equated to “mother”.) Instead he was told he could take two weeks. In the future, JPMorgan Chase said it will apply its policy in a gender-neutral way. 

According to 2016 data from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US is the only member country not to offer any kind of paid parental leave. Most countries only grant about two weeks of paid paternity/parental leave, but exceptions are there: Unicef says that paid father-specific leave that lasts for two months or more can be found in Norway (nine weeks), Portugal (12 weeks), South Korea (17 weeks) and Japan (30 weeks) but uptake varies. 

The problem is that men are often failing to take time off for a new baby for fear of missing out on promotions, workplace discrimination, lower earnings and even job loss. A report from the OECD entitled Parental leave: Where are the Fathers? states: “While men commonly take a few days of paternity leave right after the birth of a baby, only the most committed and bravest use their right to longer parental leave. The share of men among parental leave users goes up to 40% or more in some Nordic countries and in Portugal, but is as low as one in fifty in Australia, the Czech Republic and Poland.”  

Sweden has been ahead of the game for decades – in 1974 it became the first country to give new dads paid paternity leave after birth and adoption. Swedish parents can take up to 480 days paid leave, with 90 days reserved for men. This means employers know that men are just as likely to take at least three months out for a new child as women, so there is less incentive to favour-taking on the former. It also helps reduce the gender pay gap.  

Companies, therefore, not only need to have fair policies in place but actually encourage and incentivise men to take what they are offered. According to Mercer’s Global Parental Leave Report 2018, 83% of men will routinely take paid leave offered by employers but only 13% will take unpaid leave. Having the backing of leadership is vital for positive change to take place, as is having flexible HR policies that don’t stigmatise men. Making the taking of paternity leave mandatory could be an option many savvy companies adopt going forward.  

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