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Parental Leave – It’s Not Just a Women’s Issue

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A complaint filed in Massachusetts federal court earlier this week highlights a blind spot for many employers. When thinking about parental leave issues, employers often focus on their women. But men have the same rights as women when it comes to taking time off after the birth or placement of a child, or to care for a child with a serious health condition. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that an “eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period” for the reasons stated above. 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1) (emphasis added). There is no mention of the employee’s sex.

In the newly filed complaint, a male attorney at a Boston law firm alleges that after he returned from taking time off for the birth of a child, the firm assigned him fewer billable hours. Then, after he requested time off for the birth of his second child, he was terminated. Now the firm is facing a lawsuit for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There are two lessons to be learned from this complaint: (1) the FMLA provides parental leave rights not only to women, but also to men; and (2) while terminating an employee because of a request to take protected leave can form the basis of a discrimination complaint, so too can more subtle acts, such as changing an employee’s workload. With any leave request, employers should take the time to examine the situation and evaluate all possible avenues for exposure.