Category Archives: leave policies

Limiting Subpoena Power

As you might have heard, the Supreme Court issued a ruling this week in the case of McLane Co. Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Monday’s ruling addressed the standard of review for a district court in determining whether to enforce or quash an EEOC-issued subpoena, with the Court reversing the Ninth Circuit’s judgment and holding that federal appellate courts must review a district court’s decision whether to enforce an EEOC subpoena for abuse of discretion, and not de novo.

The case centered on a former McLane Co. employee’s claim that the Temple, Texas-based supply chain services provider discriminated against her on the basis of her gender.

In 2007, Damiana Ochoa took three months of maternity leave from her job at McLane, which requires new employees and workers returning from medical leave to undergo a physical evaluation if their job is physically demanding—which Ochoa’s was, according to court documents. Ochoa attempted the evaluation on three separate occasions, and failed to pass each time. She was subsequently fired, which led to her filing a charge of gender discrimination with the EEOC.

As part of its investigation, the EEOC issued subpoenas to McLane, requesting the names, Social Security numbers and contact information for other employees that had been required to take the same evaluation. The EEOC filed actions to enforce the subpoenas after McLane refused to comply with that request.

Finding that the aforementioned information was not relevant to the charges, a federal district court refused to enforce the subpoenas. The Ninth Circuit reversed that decision, determining that the district court had erred in characterizing the information as irrelevant.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn that Ninth Circuit ruling offers “a good reminder that there are limits to the EEOC’s subpoena power,” says Melissa Raphan, a Minneapolis-based partner at Dorsey & Whitney.

“The practical effect of this decision for employers is twofold,” says Raphan, who is also chair of the firm’s labor and employment group. “First, it is a good reminder that the EEOC does not enjoy unfettered discretion to obtain information about other current and former employees. Second, the battleground to push back on the EEOC’s subpoena is in the district court.”

The EEOC’s subpoena power “does not allow the agency to bypass the burden of showing that the material is relevant, and, even if relevant, the employer can still show that the request is unduly burdensome.”

Ultimately, the decision’s impact on employers figures to be “somewhat limited in scope,” says John Alan Doran, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based partner at Sherman & Howard.

Noting that only the Ninth Circuit took the position that it could review these trial court decisions “from scratch,” Doran adds that “every other jurisdiction has held that a trial court’s decision to quash or modify the scope of an EEOC opinion is subject to searching review by the appellate courts.”

As such, the decision directly affects only those employers doing business within the Ninth Circuit, continues Doran.

That said, “there is useful language for all courts to consider with respect to the scope of the EEOC’s subpoena power that employers will likely use in future run-ins with the EEOC throughout the country.”

The case is “largely about whose ox is getting gored, so it is hard to describe the decision as pro- or anti-employer,” says Doran. “In cases where an employer fails to convince a trial court to modify or quash an EEOC subpoena, this decision makes it that much harder to reverse the trial court’s decision on appeal. But where an employer successfully convinces a trial court to modify or quash a subpoena, its likelihood of success on appeal of that issue is considerably better.”

Of RIFs and FMLA Requests

Every HR professional knows that FMLA requests can get tricky, and that non-compliance can get costly. A recent court ruling shows there might be a price to pay even when an employee doesn’t explicitly make an FMLA request.

According to Crain v. Schlumberger Technology, Gregory Crain worked for 10 years as a regional sales manager for Schlumberger Technology Corp. and its predecessor company.

Terminated from his position as part of a reduction in force, Crain subsequently filed an FMLA interference claim, contending that the company violated his leave rights by letting him go just days after informing the organization that he needed to undergo surgery that would force him to take time off from work.

In October 2016, a jury agreed with Crain, awarding him $77,007; the amount of his severance. More recently, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana affirmed that ruling, awarding Crain the original verdict award along with an additional, equal amount in liquidated damages. In other words, Schlumberger must now pay double the damages.

Why? The timing of Crain’s termination was certainly a factor, according to Tina Syring, a Minneapolis-based partner at Barnes & Thornburg and a member of the firm’s labor and employment law department.

As Syring points out, Crain’s name was included in the list of employees to be included in the RIF; a list that surfaced two days after his surgery.

“Prior to the formal notification, however, the plaintiff’s name was never included in any company RIF documents, even though the employer’s witnesses claimed that the decision to include him in the RIF was made weeks before such notice.”

In the end, she says, “the jury found the employer’s witnesses less credible than the company’s lack of documentation surrounding the decision to include the plaintiff in the reduction in force.”

Syring describes this decision as a “great reminder” that documentation matters when mapping out a reduction in force.

“According to the court, given the weight of the evidence (or lack thereof) and the temporal proximity of the termination, it was not an unreasonable decision by the jury to find in favor of the plaintiff.  Thus, when addressing RIFs, employers should take the time to carefully document which employees are being considered for the RIF and update this documentation throughout the decision-making process.”

Adding another wrinkle to this case is the fact that Crain didn’t specifically mention FMLA when he told the company that he would undergo surgery and would subsequently require time away from work. He did, however, inquire as to short-term disability leave, which ultimately compels the company to weigh the possibility of FMLA leave.

“As the Crain court noted, an employee is not required to use any sort of ‘magic words’ to provide notice of the need for FMLA leave,” says Syring.

“In this situation, the plaintiff made an inquiry to human resources about short-term disability. The Crain court found that to be sufficient notice to the employer to at least make an inquiry as to whether FMLA leave notice and adherence obligations were triggered,” she says, adding that testimony had also been given to confirm that the plaintiff told his former supervisor and two HR representatives that he was going to have surgery.

“Because the company could not demonstrate that it even considered the possible application of FMLA leave prior to [Crain’s] termination, the court found that the employer’s actions were neither in good faith or reasonable.  As a result, liquidated damages were awarded against the company.”

 

 

Sad State of Parental Leave

Tuned into a pretty interesting, if not depressing, Facebook Live session on Wednesday. Seems the at-least-slow progress in paid parental leave we’ve been writing about here on HRE Daily and on our HREOnline website isn’t as promising as some think.

At least that’s according to the Society for Human Resource Management, which released during the session its National Study of Employers — a self-described “comprehensive look at employer practices, policies, programs and benefits that address the personal and family needs of employees.” (Here’s the press release for those of you who don’t have the time for an entire study right now.)

Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, talked during the session about the study’s key findings — namely that, despite reports from well-known companies (such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Ernst & Young — see our own posts linked above) announcing their expansions of paid-parental-leave benefits, the average amount of caregiving and parental leave provided by U.S. employers has not changed significantly since 2012.

Specifically, over the past 11 years, the number of organizations offering at least some replacement pay for women on maternity leave has increased from 46 percent to 58 percent. But the study also found that, among employers offering any replacement pay, the percentage offering full pay has continued to decline, from 17 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2016.

In fact, of all employers with 50 or more employees, only 6 percent offer full pay. In addition, daily flexibility, the kind needed for emergencies, has gone down actually, from 87 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2016, a statistic Galinsky called “critical.” She added:

“The fact that that kind of flexibility has gone down is a critical [and alarming] finding.”

According to Galinsky, HR has a major role in turning this around. As she put it during the session:

“Flexibility is now the norm. HR should be thinking this way. It used to be, ‘Should or shouldn’t we provide flexibility?’ Now it’s a given that we should.”

Unfortunately, she said, HR needs to do a better job of telling workers what is offered at their organizations. The study found only 23 percent of companies making a real effort to communicate the programs they have.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Small employers (50 to 99 employees) were more likely than large employers (1,000 or more employees) to offer all or most employees 1) traditional flextime, the ability to periodically change start and stop times (36 percent versus 17 percent), 2) control over when to take breaks (63 percent versus 47 percent) and 3) time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (51 percent versus 33 percent).

  • Growth of workplace flexibility has been stable over the past four years. Out of 18 forms of flexibility studied, there were only four changes:

  1. An increase in employers that offer telework, allowing employees to work at least some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis (40 percent in 2016 versus 33 percent in 2012).
  2. An increase in employers that allow employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (81 percent in 2016 versus 73 percent in 2012).
  3. An increase in organizations that allow employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal/family responsibilities (28 percent in 2016 versus 21 percent in 2012).
  4. A decrease in organizations that allow employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (81 percent in 2016 versus 87 percent in 2012).

In Galinsky’s words:

“Whether high-profile companies offering paid [parental] leave are out of step with the majority of employers or leading the way remains to be seen. Given our findings that 78 percent of employers reported difficulty in recruiting employees for highly skilled jobs and 38 percent reported difficulty in recruiting for entry-level, hourly jobs, these high-profile companies could be leading the way in the strategic use of leave benefits.”

And, apparently, that’s not happening. Not yet anyway.

No Movement on Maternity Leave

Despite a host of factors that would suggest otherwise, the number of U.S. women taking maternity leave has changed very little in the last two-plus decades.

So says a new study from Ohio State University, which finds that, on average, roughly 273,000 women in the United States took maternity leave each month between the years 1994 and 2015, “with no trend upward or downward,” according to an OSU statement. Fewer than half of those women were paid during their leave, the same statement notes.

Pointing to variables like an economy that has grown 66 percent in that time, and the number of states implementing paid family leave legislation over that 22-year span, study author Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at OSU’s Center for Human Resource Research, “expected to see an increasing number of women taking maternity leave. It was surprising and troubling that I didn’t.”

Zagorsky did, however, find the number of fathers taking paternity leave tripling between 1994 and 2015, “although the numbers are much smaller than those of women taking time off.”

More specifically, the number of men taking paternity leave rose from 5,800 men per month in ’94 to 22,000 per month in ’15.

In addition, Zagorsky’s study—based on data culled from the Current Population Survey, a monthly poll conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau—found that most women taking maternity leave were not paid. Less than half (48 percent) were compensated for leave in 2015. And, paid maternity leave is increasing, but only at a rate of less than one percentage point per year, according to Zagorsky.

“At that rate, it will take about another decade before even half of U.S. women going on leave will get paid time off,” he says. “This is a very low figure for the nation with the world’s largest annual gross domestic product.”

By comparison, more than 70 percent of men taking paternity leave in 2015 were compensated for their time off, says Zagorsky, who reasons that “one possible reason for this gender gap is that few men are willing to take unpaid leave to care for a newborn.”

Given that the inflation-adjusted gross domestic product went from $9.9 trillion a year in 1994 to $16.4 trillion in 2015, “it would have been reasonable to expect that some of the benefits of this large economic expansion would have gone to working women with newborn children, but that’s not what I found,” says Zagorsky.

He was equally startled by the effect, or lack thereof, that new paid family leave laws in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have had on maternity leave numbers, noting that those three states comprised 16 percent of the U.S. female labor force in 2015.

“If the laws were effective, some impact should be seen in national data,” says Zagorsky. “These results suggest we have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world as far as providing for new mothers and their children.”

 

Don’t Get Blindsided by Family-Leave Laws

Ever wonder what a typical case of family-responsibility discrimination involving elder care might look like? Consider this 538047854 -- elder carescenario laid out in a piece by Tom Spiggle that posted on the Huffington Post in June:

“You have an elderly parent who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He requires continuous care. You have worked at the same job for five years with a strong, positive work history. To better care for your father, you move him out of assisted living into your house. A paid caregiver takes care of him during the day, but leaves at 6, which means that you have to be home then.

“Your performance at work remains strong, but you are no longer able to take part in the informal after-work get-together frequently arranged by your boss. After missing these for a month, your boss stops by your office to ask why. You tell him. He responds ‘How long will this go on?’ You tell him maybe years. After this, things change at work. For no apparent reason, your boss begins to criticize your work. At one point, HR puts you on a performance-improvement plan.

“Although you do everything they ask and more, nothing seems good enough. One day, your father falls at your house, breaking an arm. You have to leave work early to get to the hospital and miss work the next day. You call HR, letting them know what happened and put in for [Family and Medical Leave Act] leave to cover the absence. When you return, the axe falls; you get fired. The last communication you receive from your boss is an email: ‘I’m sorry it had to end like this. You will be missed. I hope that this gives you the time that you need with your father.’

“That would be discrimination under the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Granted, his piece speaks primarily to employees, but there are some nuggets worth reviewing for employers, such as a little-known fact (little known by me anyway) that some bosses seem fine and accommodating with the first child, “but their attitude is that one child should have been enough,” writes Spiggle, an employment lawyer and founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, based in Arlington, Va.

(Note to anyone reading this who considers this a familiar occurrence in his or her organization: Time for some manager training!)

Here’s another nugget: Employees claiming they were discriminated against or weren’t accommodated under family-leave law have much stronger cases if they ask for the law’s protection while they’re still working for you. Spiggle elaborates (remember, this is directed at employees, so interpret between the lines):

“Let me give you an example. Suppose that your boss says that you are a shoo-in for a promotion. Before things become official, you announce your pregnancy. Next thing you know, the promotion goes to a man who is your junior. When you confront your boss, she shrugs and says, ‘Them’s the breaks. Next round.’ Let’s suppose things only go downhill from there and you get fired, even though your performance remained unchanged.

“Here’s the thing: If you had complained about being skipped over for the promotion because you were pregnant before you were fired, you’d have a second claim of retaliation, which is easier to prove and gives you more leverage.

“There’s also a chance that, by reporting your concerns, you might get the problem fixed. Sometimes companies do the right thing when they learn that a rogue manager is violating the law. By reporting what happened, you give the company a chance to fix it.”

Probably the most telling piece of information he shares though — as does Mark McGraw in this HRE Daily post from May — is the fact that the number of family-responsibility-discrimination cases are going way up. McGraw and Spiggle both cite a report, Caregivers in the Workplace: Family Responsibilities Discrimination Litigation Update 2016, showing a 269-percent increase in the number of family-responsibility-discrimination cases between 2006 and 2015.

Many of our HREOnline.com news analyses have also mentioned this increase and the fact that far too many employers still don’t seem to get it when it comes to proactively turning that trend around.

Consider this a reminder, then, to get your anti-family-caregiver-discrimination house in order. And make sure you’re up on the nuances involved, including who has what rights and when — and precisely what this form of discrimination looks like.

Bill Gates’ Ruthless Management Style of Yore

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 26JAN12 - William H. Gates III,  Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA captured during the session 'Global Economic Crisis: Role and Challenges of the G20' at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum at the congress centre in Davos, Switzerland, January 26, 2012. Photo by Sebastian Derungs
Bill Gates at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 26, 2012. Photo by Sebastian Derungs

These days Bill Gates is known primarily as the benevolent overseer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic vehicle through which the world’s richest man (estimated net worth: $56 billion) tackles poverty and disease and seeks to improve education. But back in the early days of Microsoft, Gates was known as a fearsome manager.

“I worked weekends, I didn’t really believe in vacations,” Gates recently told an interviewer for the BBC’s Desert Island Discs program, in which celebrities disclose which music and books they’d take with them to a desert island. This work-all-the-time mindset was applied to his employees, too: “I knew everybody’s license plate so I could look out at the parking lot and see, you know, when people come in.”

Peter Holley, a writer for the Washington Post, recently compiled some anecdotes about Gates’ old management style from people who worked with him. The stories suggest a man for whom work/life balance wasn’t just an afterthought, but a  totally alien concept. This is in stark contrast, of course, to the professed mindset of so many of today’s New Economy companies that are offering unlimited paid family leave, for example.

He cites Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who wrote a piece for Vanity Fair a few years ago about how Gates would “prowl” the parking lots on weekends to see who had come in to work. One employee put in 81 hours in one week finishing a project, only to be asked by Gates “What are you working on tomorrow?” When the employee replied that he was planning on taking the day off, Gates asked “Why would you want to do that?”

“He genuinely couldn’t understand it; he never seemed to need to recharge,” Allen writes.

Gates also had a harsh leadership style that included the frequent deployment of f-bombs, with one of his favorite sayings being “That’s the stupidest f—- thing I’ve ever heard!” writes Allen.

These days people with a management style like Gates’ are condemned as “toxic bosses.” But the sentiment is hardly universal. Holley notes that the authors of the book Primal Leadership described Gates’ style in a Harvard Business Review essay as “harsh” and yet, “Gates is the achievement-driven leader par excellence, in an organization that has cherry-picked highly talented and motivated people. His apparently harsh leadership style — baldly challenging employees to surpass their past performance — can be quite effective when employees are competent, motivated and need little direction — all characteristics of Microsoft’s engineers.”

Of course, Steve Jobs was another tech titan with a famously acerbic management style, one that reportedly left many people in tears (interestingly enough, Jobs himself also cried frequently, according to Walter Issacson’s biography Steve Jobs). Gates and Jobs are visionaries, the type who attract people willing to forgo things like having family time, or being treated with some semblance of respect, in the furtherance of building a company or product they believe will change the world (the promise of hefty stock options no doubt can make it a little more bearable, too). But visionaries don’t have to be nasty in order to get people to accomplish great things — and even Gates himself has acknowledged he’s changed and mellowed a lot in the intervening years. With the rise of social media, I would suspect it’s a bit harder to get away with a management style like that today and still be able to attract great candidates.

Giving Parental Leave a Major Boost

480711436In the United States, paid maternity, paternity and adoption leave continues to be fairly rare. Indeed, the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2015 Employer Benefits Survey reports that about 21 percent of employers provided paid maternity leave in 2015 and 17 percent offered paid paternity or adoption leave.

Lately, it’s been “new-economy” companies like Apple, Netflix and Microsoft that have been getting much of the attention on this front. But as we were reminded earlier this week, “old-economy” companies are jumping on this bandwagon, too.

Dow Chemical, founded in 1897 by Herbert Henry Dow, announced on Wednesday the launch of its Global Parental Leave Policy, giving a minimum of 12 weeks paid leave to mothers and two weeks paid leave to non-birthing parents. Leave can be taken during the 12 months following the birth of a child.

The enhanced Dow policy also supports requests to limit travel for new mothers during the first year following the birth of a child and assists nursing mothers who are required to travel for company business through the reimbursement of the cost of packaging and shipping of breast milk.

Further, it provides company-wide nursing rooms and breast-pump assistance, a family illness policy, and counseling and support through its Health Services group.

Dow’s CHRO, Johanna Söderström, pointed out in a press release  that the expanded policy reinforces the company’s strong support for the well-being of its employees and their families.

As a piece featured last year on the Entrepreneur website notes, Dow Chemical joins other more traditional employers that offer “radically awesome” leave policies for new parents, such as Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.

Anecdotally, there seemed to be a decent amount of movement on the paid time-off-for-parents front for organizations of all types in 2015—so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the needle move some when SHRM releases its next survey.

Assuming that turns out to be the case, one would think the uptick was due in part not only to significant media coverage this issue has been getting in recent months, but also to the growing recognition by employers that it’s the right direction to be heading in—both for employees and themselves.

A Few Lessons from a Few HR-Related Fiascos

I thought this might be a good post the day before New Year’s Eve. Consider these Key Lessons from Recent HR Fiascos that O.C. Tanner’s 499235312 -- fiascosDavid Sturt and Todd Nordstrom posted on their company blog a while back some good reminders heading into the new year that what you think might work in the world of management and HR can easily backfire. So tread and think carefully before implementing your wonderful 2016 workforce-management ideas.

In all fairness and full disclosure, Sturt’s and Nordstrom’s first lesson isn’t really a fiasco unleashed by human resource professionals, but it does speak to HR’s compensation oversight and what can go very wrong with a good idea.

Remember Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments, who announced his plan to raise the company’s minimum wage to $70,000 in order to do his part to lessen the pay gap between CEOs and the average worker? I spoke with Sturt about this. It seems Price had gotten hold of a Princeton University study back in 2010 indicating that, “when people were trying to meet their needs and they made generally less than $75,000, there was less contentment, happiness and a sense of well-being,” Sturt says.

But when you go over that amount, “the happiness quotient doesn’t rise in accordance and in step with raised increments,” he says. So Price brought top salaries — including his own — down while raising the minimum to a happy $70,000. Problem was, he didn’t run it by the other principles, including his own co-founder brother, who filed a lawsuit against Price that is now pending.

Sturt and Nordstrom write:

“As one disgruntled ex-employee of the company told the New York Times, it isn’t exactly fair for top performers to be compensated the same as slackers. That undermines motivation for people to go above and beyond. Whether you agree with this assessment or not is neither here nor there. At the end of the day, Dan’s good intentions brought him negative publicity, and he had to suffer the consequences.”

Then there’s the Amazon fiasco. We’ve all probably read the criticisms published in the New York Times of its hard/harsh-driving culture. What was behind it were all the metrics and measurements that were simply established to raise performance and productivity. Problem was, as the two write, “numbers don’t reveal the whole picture: not for employee engagement, not for performance, and not for [the] ability to lead and execute.”

The other culprit at Amazon, Sturt tells me, was HR itself. In his words, “Seems like HR got overrun there.” Amazon’s HR leaders did not have the self-confidence and guts, he says, to march into the offices of the CEO and other top leaders and voice their concerns — and they had to have had some, given their skills in people perceptions. “If HR isn’t stepping up,” he says, “then who is? Of course they’re taking their cues from the top, but it’s an important role for HR to be a company-culture fiduciary, if you will.”

Granted, he does see boldness growing among top HR leaders in general: “I do see it in personally strong chief human resource officers. You bump into them and you know their CEOs look at them as partners. You know they’re co-creating a culture that is both human and performance-driven.” Problem is, there still aren’t enough of them out there.

Sturt says he is seeing a fundamental shift among all top leaders, many of whom are now questioning, ” ‘What kind of place are we promoting as a place to work?’ ” And that, he says, “is creating an opportunity for HR leaders to really speak to that, and talk about principles and purpose; things that weren’t necessarily on the discussion board” a short while ago.

And No. 3 on this list of HR fiascos to mull? The fact that unlimited paid vacation and unlimited parental leave — and who hasn’t heard about this lately? (think Netflix, GE and, once again, Amazon) — come with strings attached. As Sturt and Nordstrom write,

“Offering all the paid-time-off in the world won’t fix your overworked employee problem unless the rest of your culture supports employees who take time off instead of punishing them.”

Sturt actually came back from a worldwide business tour and “saw the same kinds of things being played out in Bangalore, for instance,” he tells me. “They have the same problem we have in the states: If you really take that time, offered though it may be, you really aren’t a team player. [Those left holding the new parent’s bag, for example], are also left questioning why ‘I have to do your work.’ ”

His recommendation to HR?

“Just be mindful of the broader cultural norm you’re trying to set and weigh the initiative against it. You might make lots of changes without fitting them into the ultimate corporate goal.

“You may end up ‘Frankensteining’ it, with a bolt here and a stitch there, and you end up with a monster.

“Think before you say, ‘We gotta do this or we won’t compete’ [with all the bandwagon-hoppers].”

Taking Paternity Leave is Still a Challenge

Came across this LinkedIn post the other day by Jake Anderson about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recently 487328649 -- father and childannounced few-months’-paternity leave for his daughter.

Anderson, co-founder of FertilityIQ, lays out pretty thoroughly why so few new dads (fewer than 50 percent) actually take the time Zuckerberg is taking, even when they’re encouraged to by their employers:

“Despite the ‘entrepreneur-as-rockstar’ boom, nearly every working dad (and mom) I know is still middle management. Whether you work at Publix, Pinterest or PGE, being middle management means essentially the same thing: You have just enough responsibility to have direct reports who can bungle something critical. But not quite enough responsibility to ensure you won’t get edged out, undermined, displaced or overlooked. You’re vulnerable, and probably a tad paranoid.

“Nearly 50 percent of dads on paternity leave checked email once per day and cite workplace pressure and stigma for cutting leave short. When asked what is the ‘ideal’ time for them to be gone, most men answered two weeks. Weirdly enough, that’s [often] the same duration their employers thought.”

We’ve certainly written about men’s reluctance to take the kind of new-father leave they probably should, and companies’ reluctance to offer it, both here on HRE Daily and on our HRE website — as well as the problems new moms have in making maternity and work … well, work.

What’s different is Anderson’s characterization of his own demographic group and what might really lie behind this reluctance:

“Amidst the silent apprehension, paternity leave should feel like a godsend. For a generation committed to data and proof, there are reams of studies that demonstrate taking paternity leave creates equality in the home and healthier relationships between father and child. Reading on, and between, the lines of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement, he buys into the notion paternity leave helps address concerns that haunt so many men of our generation.

“But nearly 50 percent of dads who have the option to use generous paternity leave (let’s call it four-plus weeks), still don’t take all of it. What’s even weirder is that when dads were asked if they should get longer paternity leave, a healthy majority answered ‘no.’ Where I came from, people don’t just turn down paid leave lightly, so you better believe something else is up.”

Anderson doesn’t pretend to know exactly what that phenomenon is that’s “up.” But he does take a stab at it: Men are either suffering from a fear of missing out at work or a fear of wading through too many nitty-grittys of new parenthood, what he calls a “fear of being included (in diapers).” Or both, which he thinks is probably the case.

What he does provide employers and HR is a four-point plan of action that is most definitely worth thinking about:

  1. Closely track which men are likely to reach which levels of role and salary in three years and compare the cohorts of men who took leave and their comparables who did not.
  2. Each year, publicly, and honestly, reveal the data by department.
  3. In departments where a consistent disparity exists, force every new father to take six weeks paid leave, until either the negative cultural bias is washed out or the best practice of leave becomes commonplace.
  4. In departments where no meaningful disparity exists, allow new fathers to make their own decisions.

Without a doubt, parental leave is becoming an increasingly important and serious consideration for employers that want to keep their best people around and happy. Consider this announcement a week ago today introducing a new consultancy for employers devoted to nothing but parental leave.

(Here’s the official website of the new group, the Center for Parental Leave Leadership — partnering, impressively, with the likes of the Working Parent Support Coalition, Working Mother Media, Cornell University, the Families and Work Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Clearly, more than just this group sees a need for more help on the employer front.)

Where we all go from here in this ongoing social experiment called working parenthood, let’s not only all take it dead seriously (“past the press-release stage [and onto] harder measures,” as Anderson writes); let’s make sure we’re all in it together, moms and dads.

Parental Leave Enters Political Storm, Too

Paid parental leave has certainly taken over the media waves of big businesses trying to one-up each other in just how accommodating 510042321-- parents & newbornto new parents they can be. (See our most recent HRE Daily posts on large companies announcing such leave accommodations, including Michael J. O’Brien’s post just Wednesday on Amazon’s plan to up its allotted leave for new parents and allow them to share their paid time with partners not employed there.)

In addition to this race toward better policies, however, paid parental leave has entered a political-football frenzy of late as well. Just as Amazon was making its announcement Monday via a memo to all employees, newly elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was in the news for resisting calls to back a federal paid-family-leave law.

And this despite his outspoken desire to spend more time with his own family, according to this Huffington Post piece and this — far-more critical — piece on dailykos.com, as well as the fact that he provides his own staff with paid family leave.

“Because I love my children and I want to be home on Sundays and Saturdays like most people doesn’t mean I’m for taking money from hardworking taxpayers to create a brand new entitlement program,” Ryan told Meet the Press in a recent taping. He thinks offering such leave is up to employers; it’s their role, not the government’s.

Yes, that’s the common Republican stance — less federal control in favor of more individual control — but personally, says Terri L. Rhodes, CEO of the San Diego-based Disability Management Employer Coalition, the Paul Ryans of the world, as well as most all businesses and politicians from both sides of the aisle, “are all probably thinking mandated paid family leave is a good thing.”

Small and mid-sized businesses, especially, tend to be in favor of a federal mandate, she says, because they can’t necessarily afford the sweeping changes and allowances big businesses can in their attempts to stay one step ahead of their competition.

This mad race is further compounded by the fact that some states — including New Jersey,  California and Rhode Island — already offer some kind of paid family leave, and some states, and many companies, are backing paid sick leave as well.

“For big multi-state or global companies,” says Rhodes, “they can afford to figure how all this fits in with their policies and costs.” They can find a way to make it all work. But for smaller and mid-sized businesses, it’s much more complex “when it comes to considering provisions and accruals” and such.

“If we had a mandated paid leave,” she says, the playing field would be leveled more in terms of “what is expected; it would be more cut-and-dried.”

What’s more, she adds, many large corporations may espouse more liberal parental-leave policies, but don’t actually “support the policy that’s just been announced” when it comes to the corporate culture. The actual taking of the leave may still be frowned upon internally, but the external employer brand comes out smelling like a rose.

The sad reality — in the United States, anyway — is that “having a family still isn’t looked on as a great career path,” Rhodes says. “That’s a problem for everyone” — big business, small business … and Paul Ryan.