It sounds like a fair, gender-blind idea for American businesses: offering paid leave not to moms specifically but to a baby’s “primary caregiver.” Unfortunately, in reality, this policy is often used to reinforce old stereotypes—and in the end can discourage men from taking leave.
Many American businesses have leave policies that are stuck in the past. Families have evolved, and dads take on much more responsibility at home. But workplaces tend to offer much more generous leave for moms than for dads, pushing moms to stay at home and be caregivers, while men are pushed to stay in the office and be the primary earners.
On the surface, “primary caregiver” benefits should change this and give families real choices. Adobe, for example, offers 16 weeks of paid leave to primary caregivers, defined as parents who take “primary responsibility for care of the child during the typical Adobe work hours.” An employee must sign an affidavit averring that he or she is the “primary” caregiver. EY (formerly Ernst & Young) offers six weeks of paid leave to any primary caregiver, and two for the other partner.
But what’s written on paper and what occurs in practice are very different. Dads who want to be equal partners at home face tremendous stigma in the workplace. Many men have been demoted or even fired for taking time off to care for loved ones, including their newborn children, a series of studies overseen by a working group at the Center for WorkLife Law found.