Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paid paternal leave is getting more attention as a "need": should the childless subsidize it in a salaried workplace?

The Washington Post Business Section Sunday heads off with “Pushing for dad time: as millennials choose caregiving over a company job, employers are pressured to expand paid paternity leave”.  Online, the title is “More than a paycheck:  New dads want paid leave to be caregivers,” story by Brigid Schulte, link here
The article also, on the other side, reports that 1 in 5 companies required to offer at least unpaid leave to fathers don’t. It also reports that fathers are still less likely to want to try to take it in many instances where it is offered, even overseas.
The article does discuss the importance of the issue for same-sex male couples raising children (like “Will and Sonny” on the NBC Soap “Days of our Lives”).  It does not appear that being married is essential for the benefits to be offered.
However, it gets to become cold water time.  What is the impact on those do not have children?  In the IT workplace, many people are salaried.  Particularly in on-call situations, the childless mind wind up working time for free for those who have children.  In the 1980s, this was hardly ever an issue as in the old mainframe world programmers tended to be responsible just for their own systems, and the responsibility was pretty absolute.  As systems became more distributed and as the Internet and client-server gradually became more important in the 1990s, the picture started to change.  Responsibility for code was shared a lot more.  My worst situation happened in 1993, where I worked on call a whole weekend free when someone else was pregnant, but I did get a large raise later than I would have gotten.
With hourly workers, the company simply has to pay others to do the work.  But it has to factor the likelihood that the leave will be taken in setting up wages, and in union situations, the politics could get sensitive, depending on cultural factors. 
Elinor Burkett had anticipated some of this in her book “The Baby Boon” back in 2000.  Whether the childless need to share responsibility for other people’s children, when they have less choice in the matter, is a basic discussion we need to have, given an aging population. 

Some people will argue that paid family leave can be paid for out of corporate profits or public tax funds. That hides the debate.  Ultimately, we have to decide when we need to pay for things and sacrifice so that some can do what matters most for the "common good".  

There's not a problem when a company decides to do this out of its own best interest.  One can imagine slightly shorter standard workweeks for those with any dependents (including pregnancy).  But there's a downside: that makes other employees "cheaper" and could make other employees (childless) relatively more secure during downturns.  

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