There are several federal laws that protect the sanctity of a new life, even in the context of employment matters. Protections have been created for pregnant employees and for employees suffering from pregnancy related conditions or disabilities. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a particular law that guarantees sufficient medical leave, for certain employees, to spend time with a newborn or newly adopted child. What many people assume, incorrectly, is that this guaranteed leave is available not just for mothers, but for father's as well.
History of pregnancy-related laws
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act extends protections against gender discrimination, provided by Title VII, to pregnant women and those suffering from pregnancy-related conditions. The Americans with Disabilities Act also provides protections for pregnancy. The FMLA adds yet another layer of protection, allowing employees to take the necessary time off to recover from pregnancy and to take care of their newborn. Protected employees are guaranteed leave time and cannot be discriminated for taking time off. One aspect of FMLA's protections that is often overlooked is the fact that both men and women are entitled to parental leave under the FMLA.
The requirements for parental leave
Employees covered by the FMLA are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to care for a baby in the first year after birth or placement for adoption. The rule is that "similarly situated men and women" are entitled to receive parental leave "on the same terms." These terms have specific meaning with respect to employment law. So, what do they mean?
First, to be "similarly situated" means two people are alike in every way that is relevant for purposes of legal issues. The term is used typically in employment discrimination cases where the allegations are that employees were being treated differently when they shouldn't have. With regard to the parental leave issue, these terms together mean that if a new mother is provided medical leave beyond childbirth recuperation, then a father in the same situation must also be provided the same medical leave. In other words, both mothers and fathers are entitled to leave to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child.
Are men actually treated equally when it comes to parental leave?
It's not uncommon for male employees to report substantial difficulty in requesting and taking parental leave. One reason is that taking such leave causes them to be stigmatized at their jobs. They also report being pressured by management or their supervisors not to take leave in general.
As a result of these reported problems, the EEOC found the need to reiterate the basic anti-discrimination principle that, when men and women are similarly situated, they must receive equal treatment in employment. Both genders must receive the same opportunities to care for, and bond with, their new children. Indeed, the prevailing workplace culture must evolve and recognize the reality that men and women can both be invested caregivers in their families.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.