Human Resources News & Insights

Work/life balance? Not employer’s responsibility, judge says

A New York judge dismissed a class action suit claiming that women were discriminated against by communications giant Bloomberg. And along the way, the judge took a swipe at that whole work/life balance business.

According to an account in the Washington Post, Judge Loretta Preska said the EEOC’s case alleging the company discriminated against pregnant women and mothers “fell far short” of being persuasive.

The judge chided the agency for not providing any statistical evidence of bias and added that “isolated remarks by a handful of executives … do not show that Bloomberg’s standard operating procedure was to discriminate against pregnant women and mothers.”

No legal obligation

That part of the ruling was unremarkable. But the judge added in some commentary that should be of interest to all employers.

“The law does not require companies to ignore or stop valuing ultimate dedication, however unhealthy that may be for family life,” Janice Darcy quoted the ruling in a story on the Post’s website.

The judge went on to add that companies aren’t legally obligated to “ignore employees’ work-family trade-offs — and they are trade-offs — when deciding about employee pay and promotions.”

So what’s your take on the judge’s remarks? Do the advantages of offering flexible schedules and other family-friendly benefits outweigh the fact that employers aren’t legally obligated to do so?

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  • Joanna G.

    I am from New York City, and in all honesty I believe that this judge went “far and beyond” of the required verdict. As I could understand that there was a possibility of “not enought evidence” to rule a discrimination, sucking up to Mr. Bloomberg the mayor of NYC and the owner so too much and there was no call for. My question is why do we need a law to tell us that both family and professional life is important? Yes, there often are trade offs, but taking allowed vacation time off or sick days permitted by employees manual is not a favor, and employee should not be penalized for utilizing these benefits. Employee pay or promotions should be based on actual work done, committment or individual talent. From other sources I know for a fact, that working environment at Bloomberg company is one of those you don’t wish even to your enemy (or maybe only to an enemy?)

  • Chris P.

    Why do you feel that people who choose to have children deserve better treatment in the workplace? How is it different than any other non-protected ‘activity’? I choose to go to the gym often. If I wanted to leave 20 minutes early once a week because there is a class I want to take, should I get special treatment for my choice? Or if they allow me to do so but then I am passed over for promotion which is given to an employee who works late every night – is that fair? yes. The judge didn’t say it wasn’t “important” – he even said “however unhealthy that may be for family life” – he was simply stating a fact – that it wasn’t required by law to give them special treatment or to take into consideration their family life when making business decisions. While I agree employees should not be ‘penalized’ for taking advantage of benefits offered (i.e. vacation), those benefits are still in fact a “favor” – they are not required by law to be offered (in most states). Perhaps the working environment there is indeed unpleasant or too strict for some – it is a choice to go work somewhere else.

  • Joanna G.

    Chris, allow me please to clarify my comment. I don’t feel or believe or support ANY special treatment of employees or a group for whatever reasons i.e. breastfeeding mothers, newborn baby parents, or school-age kids parents frequantly leaving due to whatever it may be. Time at work is a work time and, unless job related activity, should be spent for business purpose. As to vacation or sick time, you are not exactly correct. Although not mandatory, however, if given by employer and identified in the ‘Company Manual’ or ‘Employe Handbook’, it is then a “law” by which given company is obligated to give this time, so it this regards it is not a favor.
    I believe one thing should be said, that with totally changed job market, from “employee job market” to employer job market, it is less possible to find a family-friendly employer Once again, it is not about special treatment of one group and suffering of the other.

  • HR

    The controversial remarks are not about taking vacation. They are about valuing work – family trade-offs and ultimate dedication by people who choose to work late all the time and put work ahead of their families. The judge is not saying that you can discriminate against people who use vacation, but that companies can put people that work late al the time ahead of someone who does not. Basically, SHE said that that companies are not legally obligated to ignore those employees who choose to go above and beyond and work late rather than going home. This makes it difficult for people who have families and try to get home to be with them because they are not as easily rewarded as people who choose to sacrifice their family life.

  • R. B.

    I believe abusing a human being is wrong, regardless of who does it or in what context that abuse is perpetrated. Sweat shops were made illegal for a reason. I don’t believe anyone deserves special treatment, but I do believe everyone deserves fair treatment and that means not requiring a person to have no balance in their life and sell their soul to their employer. Burning people out and using them up is not ethical. It should not be rewarded. Every employer has a right to expect a fair day of work for fair pay. They should not demand or require more and they should not penalize those who try to maintain a bit of balance in their life by attending to the other parts of their world outside of work. It’s all about balance.

  • Joanna G.

    I believe that this discussion is due to the very important aspect of people’s lives: work and personal life. I don’t agree that employer should rater reward an employee who stays late and puts hours of overtime. There are talented employees who know how to work in an efficient and productive matter, who are on time, don’t cut corners and their work is done errors free; and even if they have to leave earlier occassionally, they make up the time and their work never lacks. Why to stay late???? to show the boss or owner of the company that “I am more dedicated because I stay longer?” or rather this should rather reflect “I don’t know how to manage my working hours, and I waste may time?” From experience I see employees who in order to do their work must stay longer because they stare at their computers thoughtlessly, or pretend they are thinking while they are ‘day-dreaming’, and yes, the owner of the company praises them for staying late. Also they are taking upon themselves more work that they can handle to please the boss, to show their committment. How foolish! And yes, they make lives of those who manage better, or people with families who need to leave on time, a living nightmare if it comes to annual evaluation. This is what I call unjust. We should reward actual work done. When you are sick, disable… do you think it will be your work who will come to help you? No, it will be your family the one you didn’t sacrified

  • Chris P.

    The bottom line is, I don’t think anyone – including the Judge – necessarily believes that kind of treatment is necessarily ‘right’ or ‘nice’ or ‘appropriate’ – whatever – the point is that such treatment or decision making criteria is (so far) not unlawful and therefore having only the law by which to rule, the Judge ruled appropriately.

  • HR

    RB and Joanna – working late is not abusive and does not constitute the sweatshop label. Being rewarded for putting in extra work is not special treatment – IF THE PERSON IS IN FACT WORKING AND NOT JUST SITTING AROUND. It is not penalizing someone who does not work late by rewarding someone who does work late. I do agree that people who get their work done during business hours and work efficiently do deserve to be rewarded, but what about the people who are efficient and get a lot done during regular business hours then stay and get more done after hours. Wouldn’t it be penalizing them by not rewarding them? If people choose to sacrifice their family life, it is not a great choice, but it is their choice. People who want to have a better quality of life have to deal with the fact that their chances of promotion decrease when they make that choice. People who want to become high level executives have to deal with the fact that their family life will suffer. It is not pleasant, but it is the fact.

    And Joanna, most companies offer life and disability coverage at reasonable prices to the employees. Also take a look at how much you pay for medical, dental and other benefits. Your company probably pays at least as much as you do towards your benefits, probably more.

    I want to say again, that I agree with you both, that people who waste time all day and work late should not be rewarded, but people who work hard and then put in extra hours should be rewarded. People who work efficiently and get their work done in a reasonable time should be rewarded. Remember, companies are in business to make money. If they do not look at the bottom line, their employees will suffer. I see what my company does and how it manages everything and when we had to let a couple of people go during the recession, it was very difficult, but we had to either let a couple of people go or risk going out of business and letting everyone go.

  • Joanna G.

    Dear HR, I agree with you on more points than one. Although I put myself very often to defend employees in my firm, I understand the view of employer as well. It so happens that I manage and do full admin of employee benefits, along with entire payroll and bookkeeping. I see costs, payouts, premiums, bills, etc. And unfortunately for our employees, for the past few years I can’t convince the top management to make DI, LTD benefits voluntary. To the praise of the employer, we have DI and LTD paid 100% by employer (standard UNUM rates), but unfortunately since benefits are not portable, employee can’t take it with him/her when terminated. Our medical is paid 50-50% (the lowest employer contribution possible according to insurance regulations) but dental and vision employees pay 100% by themselves, and even that is a problem each year as employer doesn’t want his employees to have at all. I understand the difficult times for businesses and families alike, and truthfully it scares me, but let us hope for the better

  • dl

    I agree with a lot here but I just don’t see how many see it that if someone stays late and works weekends they are doing more? Maybe they are just slow and can’t get the work done in a timely manner. I haven’t had to stay late or work a weekend in years….my work is done, and done on time. There are many other that could have worked smarter/better and they wouldn’t have needed to put in the extra time to get the work done.

    So I leave on time to get home to my kids as quickly as possible; does that mean I don’t deserve the same raise/bonus as my co-workers who are here late every day come quarter end? Don’t think so!

  • HR

    Joanna – watch out for Unum. They frequently have low rates and find ways to deny legitimate claims – especially for small companies who cannot afford the lawsuits. I knew someone from Unum who told me he left there because that was their policy from the top down. I hope they have changed since then, but I would not use them.

    dl – Please look at all of my posts. I said that people who work extra hours, who are actually working, deserve to be rewarded. Some people get their work done and take on more work. Some people have jobs that take more than 40 hours a week to get everything done. I have known people who spread their work out and do next to nothing and work a lot of extra hours and I agree that they do not deserve to be rewarded, but to say that everyone who works extra hours is not being efficient is ignorant. People who work hard during business hours and then stay late to help get more done deserve to be rewarded for sacrificing their quality of life for their jobs.

  • Joanna G.

    HR, thank you for your notes on UNUM. Yes, I’ve heard of some instances where they denied legitimate claims (i.e. in FL few years ago they denied LTD claim to a woman with cancer claiming that it was not job related disability, shame on them). We had for the past year 1 employee on LTD with them; they paid. Now it ends but due to the insurance clause which quite clearly states that insurance compay will not pay if a claimant resides abroad for 6 months (and more) continuously, which I fully agree as insurance companies would have no way of investigating a claimant situation. How long UNUM would actualy pay for this claim otherwise, I have no idea. But to UNUM credit, they haven’t made it in any way difficult to pay regurally and it also was not job related medical condition. From my view as the “employer” I was happy for employee but pleasantly surpirsed considering that this employee was not even making an effrot to work (sitting at the desk as a desinger/architect). Who knows, maybe they improved based on some court rullings…..
    On the expense side, from the business owners’ perspective (I’m not the owner, oh no), UNUM is still the cheapest in Metro area to provide this type of benefits.