An EEOC spokesperson stated, “[i]t is wonderful when employers provide paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements, but federal law requires equal pay, including benefits, for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women.”
Another EEOC spokesperson added, “[a]ddressing sex-based pay discrimination, including in benefits such as paid leave, is a priority issue for the [EEOC].”
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If an employer voluntarily provides paid parental leave, can an employee sue because the policy isn’t good enough?
You might think this is a crazy question. I mean, there is no federal law that even requires paid parental leave. Even the FMLA is just unpaid leave.
So, if a business is benevolent and decides to help its employees out by voluntarily having a parental leave policy, could the company still get sued by an employee complaining that the voluntary leave policy was still not good enough?
This question was answered in an end-of-summer 2017 press release on the webpage of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC found cause to believe that the employer discriminated against the male employee, and the EEOC attempted to reach a prelitigation settlement through its conciliation process. When the EEOC was not able to reach a settlement that it desired, it sued the employer in federal court, alleging that its conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibit discrimination in pay or benefits based on sex. The suit alleges that new mothers are provided with flexible return-to-work benefits upon expiration of child bonding leave that are not similarly provided to new fathers. The suit seeks relief for the affected employee, and other male employees who were denied equal parental leave benefits because of their sex. Specifically, the EEOC’s lawsuit seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the aggrieved class members, as well as injunctive relief.
The new case arose when a male employee working as a stock person in a store sought parental leave benefits after his child was born. He requested, and was denied, the six weeks of child-bonding leave that biological mothers automatically receive, and was allowed only two weeks of leave to bond with his newborn child.
The company had adopted a parental leave program to provide employees with paid leave for purposes of bonding with a new child, as well as flexible return-to-work benefits when the child bonding leave expired. Under its parental leave program, in addition to paid leave already provided to new mothers to recover from childbirth, the company also provided eligible new mothers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave for child bonding. The company only offered new fathers whose partners have given birth two weeks of paid leave for child bonding.