In a court ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) this week, EU countries will be allowed to give biological single mothers additional maternity leave entitlements.
This follows a case in a labour tribunal in France. In the court case, a father had been denied additional paternity leave on the grounds that the leave was designed to “protect the special relationship between a woman and her child during the period which follows pregnancy and childbirth”.
The case was later referred to the ECJ on the basis that it might be discriminating against men, and in particular men who are single fathers and want to take time off work.
However, the ruling says that countries can give extra leave to mothers, providing it’s linked to pregnancy or childbirth. The court added that failing to allow this could undermine gender equality rules by refusing to give female workers time off work to look after their children.
Additionally, the ECJ noted that the current rules do not favour men or women. Instead, these rules provide advice to EU countries on how they can meet the standards on gender equality.
However, experts are skeptical of the ruling. For example, some people believe that, in this case, the ECJ is simply advising a national court that their ruling is compatible with EU law.
In future, it would still be up to national courts to decide on results in other cases. Practically speaking, other parents could still present their cases to the courts, even if they are exactly the same as the one in the ruling.
Geert van Calster, head of European and International Law at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, said in an interview, “It seems to me, if you’re reading between the lines of a judgement, the Court of Justice is actually suggesting that these French rules seem somewhat suspect here in view of the non-discrimination principle. In theory, the [ECJ] issue only applies to the man from the Metz case.
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