I recently read a New York Times article about the fact that many companies have been providing extra time off to parents during the coronavirus pandemic to help them with the challenge of taking care of their children while schools and day cares are closed. At first glance, this sounds like a kind and helpful gesture. However, in my opinion these policies are unfair and discriminatory towards those of us who do not have children.
The companies providing extra paid time off for parents include Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce. Facebook, for example, has given parents 10 additional weeks of paid time off in 2020 and an additional 10 weeks starting in January 2021. According to the article, some employees who do not have children and therefore do not benefit from these policies have, understandably, voiced complaints. Laszlo Bock, the former head of human resources at Google, told the Times, “for people to get upset enough to say that ‘I feel this is unfair’ demonstrates a lack of patience, a lack of empathy, and a sense of entitlement.”
I am 100% in agreement with the sentiment that these leave policies are unfair, and I find Bock’s statement deeply wrong and offensive. Having a child is not something that happens due to random chance. It is something a person chooses to do. There are all sorts of different projects and pursuits that a person can choose to take part in, depending on what is important to that particular person. Having a child is not inherently more worthwhile than spending one’s time traveling, writing, reading, cooking, making art, any other activity, yet current leave policies treat parenthood preferentially to these other pursuits. For any non-parenting-related activities that employees choose to pursue, they are expected to fit these into their nights, weekends, and vacation days. There is no reason for parenting-related activities to be exempt from this.
Giving different benefits to different people based on their parental status is unfair, and it demonstrates a lack of empathy not to see this. Recognizing an unfair situation as such does not demonstrate a lack of empathy or a sense of entitlement. In fact, it is Bock who demonstrates a lack of empathy by demanding that people without children simply tolerate discriminatory treatment without complaining. It is parents who demonstrate a sense of entitlement by believing that they deserve to be paid while doing completely non-work-related personal tasks, while their colleagues without children are foregoing their hobbies and spending their time working.
To give an example from my own life, I have numerous hobbies, interests, and passions that are extremely important to me, including reading, writing, creating art, and occasionally, attending high-profile trials. With the two or three weeks of vacation time per year that is standard at white-collar companies, it is impossible to attend an entire trial, unless the trial happens to be very short. When the Whitey Bulger and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trials happened, each lasted several months and I missed the majority of them, using my vacation days the best I could and trying to predict which days of testimony would be the most important to attend. I even asked my company if I could take unpaid leave to attend the trials and was told no. On the other hand, If I had been interested in having a baby instead of going to trials, I would have been given three months of paid leave, in addition to my two to three weeks of vacation time. In other words, under the policies that are common at white-collar companies, people who wish to have children are given leave to ensure that they do not have to choose between this and their job. People who wish to attend trials, or pursue any other time-consuming passion or interest, are forced to do exactly that: to choose between their passion or interest and their job. How can anyone consider this to be fair?
And now, in addition to the customary maternity and paternity leave policies that are already discriminatory, companies are offering parents even more time off. This is adding more unfairness on top of an already unfair situation. It does not demonstrate “entitlement” to speak out against discrimination and injustice.