Family friendly workplaces are a relatively new thing, but are we using the "family friendly" designation when we really mean "mom friendly"? Some dads think so and they are fighting back. They aren't just complaining to the HR department, they are going to court.

When CNN employee Josh Levs' wife gave birth to their third child, 5 weeks prematurely, Levs wanted to take some time to spend helping out. But, while CNN had a generous policy of 10 weeks paid leave for women who had given birth, and for men and women who had adopted or used a surrogate, they only allowed 2 weeks paid leave for biological fathers. They settled last week outside of court and CNN has changed their policy to allow 6 weeks paid leave for all new parents, with an additional 6 weeks for moms who had given birth.

My question is, how on earth did this policy get enacted? People sitting around saying, "I know! Let's give adoptive fathers a whole lot of time off, but the guy who not only has a new baby but a wife who's recovering from childbirth, he needs a lot less time off!" On what planet does that even make sense? Probably because, from a financial standpoint, men in your office becoming biological fathers is far more common than men adopting. The reality is, these leaves cost a lot of money.

Money is something that every company has to take into consideration. Sure, you want to have great perks that attract quality candidates, but you also need to keep an eye on the bottom line. But, keep in mind, while the settlement between Levs and CNN is confidential, I'm pretty darn sure it was more than 8 weeks worth of salary. When you're implementing family friendly policies, think about these things.

Are your policies legal? People often think of gender discrimination laws as being to protect women, but that's not true. They protect both males and females. You can't discriminate based on gender, on either side. You can't offer something to only women, just the same way you can't offer something only to men. Now, women who give birth are counted as disabled for generally 6 or 8 weeks, so that is a distinct difference, but outside that, make your policies gender neutral.

Forget old stereotypes. A woman who takes time off to go to a parent-teacher meeting is a good mother. A man who does the same is a slacker. Just reading that makes you cringe saying, "Of course not, that's ridiculous!" but that's often how it plays out. Both are parents, plain and simple.

A stereotype that goes the other way is that a woman who works from home is watching the kids on the side. But, a man who works at home is using his time wisely in avoiding commutes. Any time you are making a judgment on why someone is doing something (or asking to do something) check your assumptions.

Don't forget the childless people. "Jane, you can stay late tonight because everyone else has child care issues." Now, this may or may not be true, but look at it from Jane's perspective. The childless are often expected to work nights and weekends because they don't have family obligations. Just stop it. Offer extra pay for the bad shifts, or divide them up among everyone. Allow them to trade at will, but don't just assume.

Always place emphasis on results. Stereotypes can often show up in performance evaluations. Men are "straightforward" while women are "pushy and demanding." Don't fall for that trap. Take a look at what the end results are.

When someone complains about gender discrimination, listen. Presuming that CNN's policy was old and unintentional, when Levs brought it to their attention, the immediate response should have been, "Oh my goodness, that's ridiculous! Let's get that policy changed." When someone comes and says, "Why is it that women don't get in trouble for leaving right at 5:00 but I get chewed out if I walk out the door before 6:00?" listen and pay attention.

While men and women do have different needs sometimes, the differences aren't universal. Your policies need to be gender neutral and based on what is best for the health of your company. Having human (not just family) friendly policies can be a great way to attract great people. If you're going to implement them, do so fairly.

Published on: Sep 17, 2015
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