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Would you think less highly of male applicants because they took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? Your first answer may be "No," but a new study suggests otherwise.

In the study, business professors at Wake Forest University provided 242 people with mock personnel files containing resumes, job descriptions, performance reviews and FMLA-request forms. Based on that data, the study participants then assumed a manager's role and rated each employee on a range of attributes associated with being a "good corporate citizen." Example: They tried to estimate whether workers would be punctual, help co-workers or work overtime if needed.

Result: Male employees who took FMLA leave to care for newborns or ailing parents were rated less favorably than women who did the same.

Bottom line: Pay attention to the culture you're creating in the workplace when it comes to FMLA policy. Strive for equal participation with no bias. Treating male FMLA-takers differently could prompt a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit.

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