Drexel LeBow Professor Talks Pitfalls of Paid Parental Leave Laws

drexel paid parental leave

Natalie Pedersen, Assistant Professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business wrote an opinion piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer in which she examined the dilemmas many companies face surrounding parental leave for new parents. The main issue Pedersen explored in the article was the complexities of accommodating the needs of new mother versus new fathers.

Well-meaning employers have faced costly legal battles for providing too much leeway for new mothers. Estee Lauder, for example, employed a policy in 2013 that gave new mothers six weeks of paid parental leave in addition to paid time off to recover physically from giving birth. Fathers, under the company policy, earned two weeks of paid parental leave. This seemingly compassionate policy was actually the justification for a class-action law suit against the company. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is facing a similar class-action lawsuit for offering “primary caregivers” 16 paid weeks of parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child, but only two weeks for the nonprimary giver.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the policy violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which do not allow companies to pay employees differently and offer different benefits based on gender.

In fact, under federal law, U.S. employees are not guaranteed any paid parental leave whatsoever. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does require that some employees are given three months unpaid parental leave.

Pedersen sites studies that show that giving new parents time off of work is important for several reasons. Babies whose parents stayed home with them when they were newborns have been shown to have higher IQs and decreased infant mortality rates. Pedersen also mentions that paid leave is a wise move on the part of employers, because it will strengthen employees’ loyalty to the organization.

Companies who wish to provide benefits for new parents that extend beyond the minimum requirements of the FLMA do have options. Employers can give paid parental leave, so long as they are cautions about adhering to the parameters of the law. In fact, they can even offer slightly different benefits for new mothers and new fathers without legal ramifications. Birth mothers are recuperating from the physical aftermath of pregnancy and birth, so they can receive paid time off for medical reasons, whereas new fathers are ineligible for this benefit.

Natalie Pedersen teaches legal studies at LeBow College of Business, and has been published in several journals, including the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies and the Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal. She earned her BS in economics from The Wharton School at UPenn and a JD from Harvard University.

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