So, there’s a new leave called Fur-ternity or if you prefer, Paw-ternity leave. It gives new pet owners time off to bond with their pets. So if, as it seems, pets are becoming the children of the 21st century, it makes sense to some organizations to create pet-centric benefits. Except that it highlights an issue I see with a lot of employers: Their clever approach to creating an attractive benefit package is to carve out a fun, innovative, and very specific perk that is hip and popular because it celebrates one of life’s delightful moments. That’s good for some, but unfortunately it’s not so good for everyone. In real life, employees often really need the time off not because things are going well, but because they’re not. And these specific perks can create inequity.
Inequality can become the outcome, which is risky for companies trying something outside of the norm. Recently, the Society for Human Resource Management wrote about the million-dollar lawsuit against Estee Lauder which provided eligible new mothers six weeks of paid parental leave for child bonding, in addition to leave for recovery for childbirth. But they only offered new fathers two weeks of paid bonding leave.
Moms got flexible return-to-work benefits; dads didn’t. Then there was a big, expensive lawsuit. Now the company offers 6-to-8 weeks of recovery from childbirth and an additional 20 weeks of paid leave for bonding, plus $10,000 toward adoption expenses. It already offered $20,000 toward fertility treatments, as well as in-home child care, and elder care at reduced rates.
I should have gone into the makeup business.
Helping Employees Through The Dark Times
There are many life events that are not as photogenic as a new baby or puppy. They’re sad: like mental or physical illness, like a death or trauma in the family, like a horrible injury or relationship breakdown. And if you only choose to grant leave for happy events, your employees can suffer.
In some states, there are mandated leaves for some of these events, like Safe Leave that give victims of domestic violence the opportunity to resettle someplace after having to flee their homes or hide from their partners. It doesn’t look so great on a brochure, but it addresses a valid need. Some 10 million people a year are victims of domestic violence. By contrast, only 3.8 million babies were born in the last year.
I know that having a baby is a time of so much excitement and many employers want to go above and beyond what is mandated to accommodate that specific life event. But how is it fair that a happy life event should result in an additional benefit compared to someone having an unhappy life event—like cancer? Why would you want to carve out time for the one happy thing and not carve out time for the parent who is dying, or the child who is struggling with a disability, or the person who is battling depression?
Work is where we live much of our lives. It needs to account for the reality of our whole lives. If you want help figuring out a fair and humane leave policy for everyone on your team, we’re here.