Cross-posted from A Better Balance's Blog.
At first, Josh Levs thought his employer’s policy on paid family leave was a simple mistake. His company, Time Warner, offers new mothers ten weeks of paid time off after giving birth. Women and men who have children through adoption or surrogacy also receive ten weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child. Biological fathers, on the other hand, only receive two weeks of paid leave. When Levs pointed out this discrepancy to his supervisor before the birth of his daughter, he realized that it was not an oversight at all. His boss refused to give him more than two weeks of paid leave, and Levs was denied the eight additional weeks he would have received as a biological mother or adoptive parent. After trying and failing to get the policy changed, Levs filed an EEOC discrimination charge against Time Warner.
But even more upsetting than Time Warner’s discriminatory policy has been the public’s reaction to Levs’ story. Comments following a recent news article on the lawsuit urge Levs to “man up” and “get back to work.” This hostility towards paid time off for fathers reflects the disparagement and disbelief that so many dads face when trying to balance work with family commitments. In a survey A Better Balance did of working fathers, largely white-collar professionals, 75% of respondents worried that their jobs prevented them from having the time to be the kind of dads they wanted to be. Many of those who did manage to take time off, even if only for a day to stay home with a sick child, reported criticism from their supervisors. “People look at you like you’re crazy for leaving at 5 to pick up a child,” explained one dad. Others reported being questioned about their job commitment after requesting time off, and one respondent was told he would be fired if he left to bond with his newborn. Juggling a job and family is a significant challenge for all working parents, especially in a country that provides no guaranteed paid time off whatsoever to new parents. Too often, however, the assumption is that dads simply don’t need—or want—time off to care for their families.
Discrimination against fathers is every bit as important for women as it is for men. Even as women increasingly become the sole, co-, or primary breadwinner for their families, mothers continue to work a “second shift,” performing more childcare duties, on average, than fathers. While many of the dads in our report said they wanted to spend more time at home, our culture continues to see caregiving as women’s work. One man even told us his supervisor asked, “why doesn’t your wife care for your son in these instances?” when he asked to stay home with an ill child. The man’s wife was a high-level, full time professional. This outdated perception of women as primary caregivers harms men and women alike, holding women back in the workplace as it forces dads to choose between keeping their jobs and maintaining an active role in their children’s upbringing. The United States needs to adopt a paid family leave policy for all working families, as exists in nearly every other developed country. But we also need to eliminate the widespread cultural stigma against time off for working fathers. An innovative approach taken by many countries as well as Quebec, Canada, has been to offer “use it or lose it” paid leave to fathers that cannot be transferred to a child’s mother. This has greatly increased the number of men who take paternity leave. Whatever path is taken, let’s work together to make sure the 19th century world of “separate spheres” goes the way of the petticoat.
Read more about Josh Levs in a New York Times article here.