Legal Analysis: Cases Where the Reconciliation of Personal Life and Work Is Hindered by Law
The employer’s obligation under the Labour Code to respect the employee’s private life and to take measures to assist the employee in fulfilling his or her family responsibilities is more of a declaratory nature. The legislation does not always provide specific mechanisms to fulfil this obligation. Guarantees for employees for caring for sick family members are minimal, unfavourable, or non-existent. This is shown through the analysis of legislation carried out by the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson.
The authors of the analysis, lawyers Laima Vengalė-Dits and Renata Vanagėlienė, note that the importance of reconciling work and personal life is reflected in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania. The main law of the country stipulates, on the one hand, the obligation of parents to raise and materially support their children until they reach the age of majority, and, on the other hand, the obligation of children to take care of their parents when they reach old age by any means necessary. Consequently, to carry out our family responsibilities properly, we must inevitably combine these concerns with other activities, first and foremost, the work.
Obligations of the Employer Are of Declarative Nature
‘In Lithuania, various guarantees provided by law help to reconcile work and personal life, such as parental leave, part-time work, remote work, additional days off, etc. However, all this is declarative, it does not promote a practice favourable to reconciliation’, says lawyer R. Vanagėlienė.
‘For example, the Labor Code does not oblige the employer to approve and make public a list of measures intended to fulfil family responsibilities, to make them known to all employees, and to provide a simple and quick dispute resolution mechanism at the workplace when an employer refuses to grant the request related to the performance of family responsibilities. There are no provisions in the Labor Code that oblige the employer to establish and implement an impartial control mechanism to determine whether employees are in fact guaranteed the right to reconcile work and personal life. Without such a mechanism, this obligation of the employer becomes formal and ‘on paper only’, says L. Vengalė-Dits.
Only some of the measures for reconciling personal life and work are enshrined as mandatory guarantees that the employer must provide at the employee’s request. However, the legal wording of these measures is not prescriptive in the Labor Code: the wording ‘leave is granted’, ‘intended for remote working’ do not establish the obligation to provide guarantees and may be interpreted ambiguously.
‘It follows a bad practice that, for example, parental leave depends on the employer’s will, which can be taken within a year of the child’s birth—in this case, the employer can manipulate the employee. Or, if the father goes on parental leave, the employer or colleagues often take a critical view. There are many areas where employees depend directly on the employer’s favor when needing to address the needs of the family. The specific time of granting these guarantees is also not discussed in the legislation, therefore it can be interpreted differently, depending on the goodwill of the employer’, comments R. Vanagėlienė on the weak point.
Conditions for Mothers and Fathers in the Legislation Are Not Equal as Well
The analysis notes that the law provides more favorable guarantees for mothers than for fathers. The Constitution provides for favorable working conditions and benefits for working mothers, but fathers (men) are not included in the list of persons protected by the Constitution at all.
According to experts, such legal regulation can directly form a point of view on the importance of the role of women and mothers in the care and upbringing of children, forgetting that the role of the father is just as important.
During the assessment of other legislation, the experts also noted the language used in the legislation.
‘In our analysis, we emphasized that “motherhood” insurance entitles you not only to maternity benefits but also to paternity benefits, although the name of the type of insurance itself suggests that it is a type of insurance that only applies to women. We believe that it is not necessary to differentiate between types of insurance by gender, but giving this benefit a neutral name would be one of the first steps in reducing stereotypes in the field of reconciling family and work’, says R. Vanagėlienė.
It has been noted that the legislation also provides for different financial benefits of paternity and maternity leave. Although for paternity, the benefit is 77.58% of the beneficiary’s compensatory earnings, there is a ‘ceiling’ for paternity benefits, and no such ‘ceiling’ for maternity benefits. According to lawyers, it would be important to harmonize the mechanism for calculating paternity and maternity benefits, separating it from gender.
According to R. Vanagėlienė, such a sensitive area as the possibility and necessity to take paternity leave after the birth of a stillborn baby is still not regulated at the legal level, although it is no less important for the father to survive the loss and be with the baby’s mother. Under the current law, women are not always guaranteed maternity benefits during this particularly difficult period, as it depends on the week they gave birth (i.e. 22–30 weeks of pregnancy) and the number of days the child survives (i.e. more than 28 days). If these requirements are not met, the woman does not receive the benefit.
Lawyers emphasise that even a slight adjustment of the legislation would allow a large part of society to reconcile work and personal life in practice more effectively.
The latest public opinion poll commissioned by Vilmorus showed that more than half (51%) of Lithuanians could not claim they are able to reconcile personal and professional life. 65% of women have admitted to feeling guilty about leaving young children in the care of others while they work.
Respondents said that the following would help to reconcile work and personal life better: a flexible work schedule (59% agreed), a favorable attitude on the part of employers and colleagues (43%), the possibility of taking longer leave, free days on demand (39%); available childcare services (kindergartens, nurseries, daycare centres) (37%).
This article is part of the project “Everybody’s Talking: Work-Life Balance Goes Mainstream”, partially funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020). The content of it is the sole responsibility of the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.