Parental leave in the US continues to fall short of the needs of modern families. This is not only true for women, who continue to feel unsupported by their employers as they adjust to motherhood, but for fathers as well. For many families, the options for paternity leave from most corporations are entirely too limited.
One recent example of this can be seen with JP Morgan Chase, which just agreed to pay $5M in a discrimination suit over its paternity leave policies.
According to CNN, the class action suit was filed by a dad who was denied the opportunity to take additional paternity leave after the births of his two children. Derek Rotondo, an investigator on the company's security and audit team, said he was not given the same treatment that mothers would have received.
Rotondo claimed that the company would not consider him for 16 weeks of leave, which is normally given to mothers at the bank, unless he could prove that his wife was incapacitated or had already returned to work. Since he could not prove either of those exceptions, his request for additional time was denied.
Rotondo filed the suit in 2017 and JP Morgan Chase has since "enhanced communications to clarify that it's gender neutral," but the company was still forced to pay out the settlement for discriminating against multiple fathers.
"We are pleased to have reached an agreement in this matter and look forward to more effectively communicating the policy so that all men and women employees are aware of their benefits," JPMorgan Chase & Co. Associate General Counsel Reid Broda said in a media release. "We thank Mr. Rotondo for bringing the matter to our attention."
The suit brings up an important debate in today's society—why isn't parental leave truly gender neutral, especially when most children are being born into households where both parents need to work?
According to the Pew Research Center, about 48% of working dads said they would prefer to be home with their children, but simply couldn't do so because of the financial repercussions. Furthermore, even as more women have become primary breadwinners in their households, men are still largely seen as the less-equipped parent.
This statistic not only places unfair pressures on working mothers but also robs many fathers of the chance to even feel supported in the option to be their family's primary caregiver.
A new study shows that millennial dads are spending up to three times as much more time with their children than fathers of previous generations. More importantly, these dads are actively seeking opportunities to be more hands-on with their children. And yet, too often, the companies they work for are not responding in earnest.
Even when fathers are able to figure out ways to make their leave work, they are often forced to do so at the expense of their vacation and sick time. Besides losing out on the obvious need for paid time off, this also means that dads are missing out on critical prenatal appointments.
As Motherly's Digital Education Editor, Diana Spalding, previously wrote, "My husband had to choose between taking time off to come to my prenatal visits or using that time to lengthen his paternity leave, which was five days long."
"Still, that did not prevent one of my midwives from commenting on his 'lack of presence' during my prenatal care," she added. "It felt like a lose-lose situation."
At present, only a few states mandate paid parental leave. And even as the federally-mandated Family and Medical Leave Act requires most companies to guarantee a parent's job security after up to 12 weeks of leave, it does not guarantee that the leave will be paid. As a result, many parents simply can't afford to both be out at the same time. This is especially challenging during the early months of parenthood when new moms and dads likely need the most support.
Multiple studies have shown that new mothers struggle during that fourth trimester, falling victim to anxiety, postpartum depression and feelings of isolation. It's impossible for fathers to be able to lend support that moms need, even when they truly want to do so, if they are only able to secure 1-2 weeks away from work.
Moreover, it's important for us to encourage fathers who are looking to play a larger role in parenting but simply have not been socially supported in doing so. A recent Rutgers study showed that even by simply including more images of fathers and babies in waiting rooms at doctors' offices, dads felt more confident that they could be a more hands-on, active parent.
"Current norms in society hold men to lower expectations to be involved and many men say they are not sure what their role should be during this time, leading to often low involvement," Analia Albuja, the lead researcher on the study, said.
As we work to change old-fashioned gender norms when it comes to parenting, it will be critical for corporations to treat a fathers' need for time with his family with just as much as importance as a mother's.