Employers should re-examine their parental-leave policies in light of changing views of the father's role in the family. When considering such policies and whether they are unlawfully discriminatory, it is important to appreciate the difference between time off related to pregnancy and related medical conditions, on the one hand, and time off related to childcare on the other.
Case in point: CNN reporter Josh Levs and Time Warner, Inc., his employer's parent company. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires Time Warner to provide male and female employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childcare. There's no problem there, because the law treats men and women the same. In contrast, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act appears to treat men differently, requiring that Time Warner give women — but not men — leave for pregnancy, childbirth and/or any related medical issues. There's no problem here either, because the law is really treating men and women the same — recognizing that pregnancy and childbirth are medical issues deserving the same allowance as any other medical issue for which both male and female employees are given leave.
What Mr. Levs takes issue with is Time Warner's policy, which allows new mothers 10 paid weeks of leave for childcare but new fathers only two. Mr. Levs argues that this requires fathers — but not mothers — to choose whether to stay at home for a longer period without pay or return to work and miss out on time with their newborn.
Time Warner is ahead of the game in that, unlike many other organizations, it at least offers paid paternity leave, however brief. Its policy of granting longer leaves to women than men, however, seems to arise from adherence to outmoded gender norms that do not recognize that men can be childcare givers too. Employers who cling to this position, however, are at increasing risk of Title VII lawsuits.
Employers' policies need to keep up with societal change and ensure they treat men and women equally with respect to parental leave, and providing additional time off for women only when it is clearly tied to pregnancy and childbirth.