Joseph Kelly, EB Blogger

Joseph Kelly, EB Blogger

Recently I was introduced to a guy who works for one of the large automotive manufacturers. This particular employer has a generous parental leave section in its Enterprise Agreement which provides for several weeks leave for a parent. The only restriction on taking the leave is that it cannot be taken if another parent is concurrently taking leave to care for the children.

The man I met had a problem. His wife was expecting triplets. Triplets, it could well be argued, need more than one parent to care for them in the best of times. But in this particular circumstance the expectant mother had an underlying medical condition that her doctors had told her would require her to convalesce for a substantial period following the birth of the children. The doctors even provided a medical certificate to this effect.

No problem so far - all the father needs to do is explain to his employer that he will be the sole carer for his children while his wife convalesces. Simple. Except, for his employer, it is not that simple. Applying the sort of logic that only exists in large Human Resources departments, the employer concluded that as the primary care-giver (i.e. the mother) was at home with the children then the father had no entitlement to paid parental leave. As helpfully explained by HR, the father was entitled to access his 10 days carers leave days to care for his wife, but the only other leave available to him was annual leave. It was HR's assessment that any time the father took off following the birth of his children would be to care for his wife, while she cared for their children.

As the advocate for this particular father I made a very simple point. I pointed out to HR that if it was the other way around, that the mother was applying for parental leave while her husband complied with a medical certificate and convalesced (say, for a back injury), then it would be unlikely we would be having this conversation. The high level of thinking applied by HR practitioners does not respond well to hypotheticals. The matter is now being referred to Fair Work Australia for resolution.

What the above illustrates is the double standard that is applied to issues of parenting. Ideally, each parent should be viewed equally, each individually capable of nurturing and sustaining their children, each in their own right a "primary care-giver". There have been some very subtle moves in this direction. For example, we no longer refer to maternity leave but rather the gender neutral 'parental leave'. But there is a traditional bias that suggests that while it's great that dads sometimes help out around the house, as they do not go through birth and do not breast feed, they will always be 'the other parent'.

And it's not limited to child care. Last week I had an argument with yet another large HR department. This time a male employee had taken time off to care for his critically ill brother. His request for carers leave was denied. Why? It was HR's considered opinion that the ill brother should have been cared for by his mother.

When it comes to parenting, are dads 'Goose' to mum's 'Maverick'? Do we, as a society, believe that men are not as capable of providing primary care as women? Comment on Joseph's blog.