FMLA Leave: Dads matter too!
Do you view FMLA leave after the birth of a child as a privilege exclusive to the mother? Perhaps you view a father’s paternity leave as an afterthought- a secondary concern that should cause as little disruption to your company as possible.
In reality- when it comes to FMLA and paternity leave it's important to act in a non-discriminatory way. As an eligible employer you are required by federal law to allow your employees (both men and women) 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after the birth of a child. As attitudes shift and more young men want to take on an active role in care-giving it's important to ensure you are being compliant when it comes to their FMLA leave requests.
Ariel Ayanna felt his former law firm (Dechert, LLP) singled him out after the birth of his second child and a 12 week period of FMLA. Ayanna took the time to care for both his child and his mentally ill wife- whose condition was so extreme that she attempted suicide during her pregnancy. Surrounded by a culture that celebrated traditional masculine roles Ayanna returned to a hostile work environment- baying for his resignation.
Prior to the leave request Ayanna had a stellar work record. He was evaluated positively in his first year and received a bonus. During the second year his wife fell pregnant with their second child and experienced a serious deterioration of her mental condition. Ayanna went from co-parent to primary caretaker of the children and his wife’s carer in a matter of months.
Ayanna took his four weeks paid paternity leave followed by his federal entitlement under FMLA. Instead of being applauded for his strength during an intensely difficult period he was derided for taking on a “woman’s” role and criticized for his lack of commitment to the firm. A firm with a strong masculine culture. Where long work days take priority over family obligations and most male attorneys chose not to take their entire allocation of paternity leave- never mind venturing into FMLA leave.
Ayanna contends that Dechert discriminated against him by withholding work and then negatively evaluating his performance – claiming that his “personal needs” distracted him from work. He was eventually terminated four months after his return from FMLA leave.
Ayanna’s case was settled on the eve of the trial- but comes as a warning to any employer guilty of treating caregivers FMLA requests differently based on the gender of the employee. If you’re struggling with the concept of male employees acting as primary caregivers it may be time to catch up with the changing patterns in the American social fabric.
As demonstrated by Ayanna’s plight, when it comes to FMLA leave, dad’s matter too!