Often we hear reports filtering in from the US of huge benefits and expansive parental rights from companies in Silicon Valley, which include unlimited time off for both parents during the child’s first year from Netflix.
However, you don’t get much more of a stark illustration of the difference between the parental benefit wars in Silicon Valley and the reality for US employees elsewhere than what happened to employee Lamar Austin on New Year’s Eve.
Lamar was working on a 90-day trial with private security group Salerno Protective Services. His wife went into labour on new Year’s Eve and he did not attend his weekend shifts because he was with her, attending the birth of his son Cainin. The same night he was fired by text message. He told the Concord Monitor:
“I didn’t want to make it seem like I’m trying to miss work or something,” Austin said. “The second day I told my boss, ‘My wife is still in labor,’ and he just said, ‘You’re forcing my hand, if you aren’t in work by 8 tomorrow we are going to terminate you.’ ”
At 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Austin said, he got a text message, “As of now, you are terminated.”
“I just responded ‘ok,’ ” he said. “I was in the hospital, it was a long night, and I wasn’t trying to argue with nobody about a job while my wife was in labor.”
Sadly, Lamar has no legal recourse, as the treatment is neither illegal or even unusual under US law in that state. However, the case has received a phenomenal amount of adverse publicity.
Andru Volinsky, a lawyer and soon-to-be executive councilor, told the Concord Monitor that while the company broke no laws, the incident was not good practice.
“Supporting employees is the ‘cost of running a good business’ and legal niceties aside, this company could have acted more humanely,” he said, although he pointed out that collective negotiation was the only effective way employees could secure paternal rights.
“We’ve seen over the years that there are many good employers that act fairly and some that act unfairly, but it’s only when the employees are organized and act collectively that they are able to negotiate for protections that include paid family leave,” he said.
HR News asked Parental Discrimination expert Danielle Ayres of Gorvins about what would happen in a similar situation in the UK. Danielle advises:
Parental leave would NOT apply before 26 weeks continuous employment in the UK
“As the article suggests, there is no protection in the US for this type of treatment, meaning that employers can (and do) terminate employment relationships at any time during the course of the relationship, and more importantly, for any reason. Whilst mothers in the UK would be protected if they were to be dismissed for going into labour, as in the US, there are no such laws protecting fathers who have missed work to be by their side during labour.
If this situation arose in the UK, the father would not have been entitled to take paternity leave, given that he would not have had the requisite period of service (he would have needed to have worked for the same employer for at least 26 continuous weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week of the due date).”
Emergency leave (unpaid) would however apply and employer could not dismiss the Father in the UK
“The father could, however, have asked to take emergency leave, which allows employees to take time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, including a spouse or a child. An instance where an employee’s spouse went into labour unexpectedly and they rely upon the employee to take them to hospital or support them through the birth would be covered. There is no obligation on an employer to pay an employee whilst they are absent from work on emergency leave, however, in these cases, an employer cannot treat the person unfairly or dismiss them because they have taken time off for a dependant.”
Fathers have fewer rights than mothers, but in practice discrimination rarely occurs in the UK
“At present, fathers seem to have fewer rights than mothers and they are on an unequal footing when it comes to the discrimination legislation. In practice, men are obviously very rarely discriminated against because of a pregnancy, childbirth or for pregnancy-related illnesses.
However, it simply cannot be right for employees to be faced with a decision as to whether they retain their job, or miss being present for the birth of their child.”