Fatherhood is changing. More men are actively involved in taking care of their children, whether by choice or necessity. They report feeling significant work/life stress, and many also report feeling discriminated against on the job when they need time off for childcare. Increasingly, employers who aren’t keeping up with the changes are finding themselves in court.
Discrimination Cases Pending
Here are some of the cases brought by fathers that are currently pending:
- Umar Latif, a vice president/global head of information technology for M&C Hotel Interests, Inc., told his supervisor and HR that he would be taking time off for the birth of his first child. He says that he received a message “strongly discouraging him from taking a leave of absence,” and that he was terminated “almost immediately” upon his return from leave. He is suing for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act and wrongful termination, among other claims. The court has denied the employer’s motion to dismiss some of the claims.
- Gary Ehrhard, an air traffic controller, and his wife care for their two daughters. He has sued his employer because, he claims, he was required to submit written requests for leave and his requests were ignored while female controllers had their requests for childcare leave routinely approved without having to put them in writing. The court has ruled that most of his claims can go forward.
- Malual Awak took four weeks of FMLA leave to care for his pregnant wife. According to his complaint, when he returned, he was demoted. When he requested a second leave, he says his supervisor made derogatory comments about his wife and his leave request, began “documenting” him and soon thereafter terminated him. The court is allowing most of his claims to go forward as well.
- Ariel Ayanna, a lawyer and father of two, has sued his former law firm, Dechert. He alleges that after he took FMLA leave to care for his wife, who had mental health issues, and to be his children’s primary caregiver, he was criticized and then terminated. He claims that the culture at the firm discouraged men from being caregivers. His discrimination claim is proceeding.
Highway to the Courthouse
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What is behind the increasing number of cases? Fathers can face family responsibilities discrimination and flexibility stigma the same as other caregivers and, in addition, may be penalized for not acting like a stereotypical male. By doing “women’s work,” their masculinity is called into question and employers and colleagues may view them as less of a team player, less dependable, and less ambitious.
Employers may make it harder for fathers to take leave or work flexibly in order to bring them back into line. Other methods of forcing fathers into accepted sex roles have included verbal and physical harassment, denial of promotion, and punishing assignments. The combination of sex-based stereotypes and adverse employment actions creates a highway to the courthouse door.
5 Tips to Keep You out of Court
Here are some tips to help employers stay out of court:
- Educate supervisors about sex stereotyping of fathers and how it manifests itself in the workplace. Training should also include the business reasons for eliminating the stereotyping, including the benefits of retaining experienced workers.
- Ensure that HR professionals are aware of not only the biases but also what commonly triggers them so they can anticipate problems. A thorough understanding of the legal and social issues involved in discrimination against fathers will help them to recognize and investigate claims.
- Check employment policies, particularly leave and flexible work arrangement policies, to make sure they are gender-neutral and do not discourage men from using benefits designed to ease work/life stress.
- Review for fairness your company’s procedures for approving requests for family leave and flexible work, and make sure that the procedures are followed consistently for all employees.
- Monitor for the effects of sex stereotyping. Measure the usage rates of paternity leave and other types of family leave, look at whether fathers who use leave receive worse assignments or poor evaluations, and see if fatherhood has an adverse effect on compensation or promotion.