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Morgan Stanley, UBS, Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo Update Parental Leave Policies

Jun 11, 2019 / News Item / Financial Advisor IQ — Miriam Rozen

Wirehouses and their parent companies have updated their parental leave policies in recent years, giving more generous time off for parents and, at least at first glance, making them gender neutral.

But some of the new policies have continued to categorize leave-taking employees as either primary or secondary caregivers, and the secondaries are permitted shorter leave time.

Some of the revised policies consequently have deterred fathers from taking their leave days, particularly when their spouses also take their leave days, according to Peter Romer-Friedman, a plaintiff lawyer who represents clients who tentatively settled for $5 million in a parental leave class action lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase.

That lawsuit alleged the bank had gender-biased policies against men because its policies in effect offered them less parental leave than mothers — 11 weeks less, until the bank revised its policies in 2016.

The named plaintiff in the lawsuit, Derek Rotondo, a global security investigator, alleged in May 2017 that when he talked to Chase’s human resources department about a leave application, he received a written message that “per our policy, birth mothers are what we consider as the primary caregivers.” Rotondo would qualify as primary caregiver only if his wife returned to work before 16 weeks or was medically barred from childcare, Chase HR allegedly told him.

While engaged in settlement talks with the Rotondo plaintiffs, Chase changed its policies again in 2017 to remove gender-specific language and clarify that fathers could be regarded as primary caregivers.

As part of the proposed settlement, Chase has pledged to train its HR employees to not presume fathers are not primary caregivers.

But employers “need to go beyond making policies gender neutral,” argues Romer-Friedman, who is counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of Outten & Golden. “If you are going to have primary and non-primary distinction, you have to do a really good job of explaining the program and make sure people know that your spouse can be at home too.”

Romer-Friedman adds: “I think the ideal policy is that you give enough weeks to everybody; you can just make it as simple as that.”

If employers allow parents to decide on their own when and how to use their allotted parental leave time — together, alone, continuously or intermittently — that flexibility bestows potential health benefits, specifically for new mothers, according to a study released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research and authored by Stanford University economics and medical school professors.

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Closer to home, financial advisors at Morgan StanleyUBS, Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch, and Wells Fargo have all revised parental leave policies in recent years.

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