Pop quiz: Who struggles most with work-family conflict?

Your first answer might be “working mothers.” But according to work-life author Brigid Schulte, surveys show working dads are as likely to be struggling.

Yes, there is evidence that women experience a “motherhood penalty,” meaning lower wages, fewer opportunities and negative assumptions, while men often benefit from a “fatherhood bonus.”

But the fatherhood bonus comes with its own fine print. Even in “family-friendly” companies, dads fear repercussions if they try to use flex time or paternity leave. And some can’t afford to: In a 2014 survey by Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, 86 percent of fathers reported they would not use paternity leave unless they could receive at least 70 percent of their salary.

Gender-neutral, paid parental leave “is the fair, just thing to do, and also the smart thing to do — for families, mothers, fathers, companies and the economy,” says Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women. “You need to be able to make the business case for fathers.”

A survey by the Center for Economic and Policy Research may help: It reports that 91 percent of California’s employers said the state’s family leave law — mandating six weeks of partial wage replacement to bond with a new child or care for a family member — has had
either a positive or neutral effect on profitability.

But even if universal paid leave catches on, treating working mothers and fathers equally may remain a challenge.

Reader: A colleague (sole earner for his family) and I (married mother of two grade-school children in a dual-earner household) are being laid off. We were hired at the same time and are receiving about the same salary. While I will be officially laid off in two weeks with no severance, I learned from the owner that he intends to give my colleague, who just became a father this week, more time to “get back on his feet” before his layoff takes effect. While I understand management’s good intent, I believe this is discriminatory.


Karla: This is awful, all around.

No federal law specifically prevents discrimination based on marital or parental status, but a number of states do. However, if an employer consistently favors employee-dads over employee-moms, a court might consider that sex discrimination. The persistent mind-set that a working dad has a family to provide for while a working mom is just earning pin money is discriminatory, not to mention inaccurate.

Whatever his intent, your CEO should never have shared details about your colleague’s layoff. But since he did, you might as well ask an employment lawyer whether that conversation gives you leverage to negotiate a better parting deal for yourself.

Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing wpmagazine@washpost.com. Read more @Work Advicecolumns.

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