Family responsibility discrimination (FRD) is quickly making a name for itself in the ever-evolving realm of employment law. A new report by the Worklife Group of UC Hastings College of Law says that FRD claims climbed 400% from 2000 to 2010 and numbers could rise as employers continue to exercise common stereotypes and assumptions about employees struggling to work and care for family members.

Women and Men Caring for Young Children

One main category of workers facing family responsibility discrimination are workers caring for young children. These employees may experience hiring discrimination when employers determine that their familial status as parents of young children would limit their ability to meet job requirements or specifications.

They may also be exposed to discrimination based on the amount of time off needed to attend to children’s needs. Young children and toddlers require extra time for doctor’s visits and screenings, temporary and long-term illnesses, extracurricular activities and school programs. These early developmental activities can place parents in a bind when supervisors are less inclined to accommodate absences or requests for flexible schedules.

Experts also report unique factors contribute to current FRD scenarios. Shifts in supervisory roles can change the atmosphere at work from one which accommodates caregivers to one that is ultimately prohibitive and exclusive towards them. In other words, an old supervisor may provide extra hours to caregiving employees to make up for time missed, but when a new supervisor is hired, the policies shifts in ways detrimental to parents of young children as well as other caregivers in the workplace.

Another factor influencing FRD against parents of young children is having more than one child. The birth of an employee’s second child can sometimes cause employers to treat parents differently. Employers may begin acting on stereotypes about increased family needs mean increased company losses.

The struggle to juggle work and family life is real. Parents caring for younger children often feel torn between meeting family care needs and giving work the attention it requires. Pregnant women especially can be placed in a bind when employers treat them differently in terms of maternity leave or accommodations at work.

Pregnant Women

Motherhood can sometimes result in intense forms of employment discrimination. This is sometimes due to perceived notions about maternity leave and the extra cost of accommodations. Pregnant women may be forced to return to work from maternity leave sooner than expected or may be penalized for deciding to work as long as possible before leave kicks in.

Whatever the underlying reasons for pregnancy discrimination, laws are in place for worker protection. Title VII prevents discrimination based on an employee’s sex in all areas of employment. In addition, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) explicitly prohibits discrimination against pregnant workers and provides that expectant mothers should receive reasonable accommodations when the request do not cause undue burden on the company.

Workers Caring for Sick Spouses or Partners

For employees caring for a sick husband, wife or partner, the FMLA is often a solid form of protection against family responsibility discrimination. The 12 weeks of unpaid leave stands as a viable option to unwarranted work absences that could jeopardize a career.

The FMLA also provides protection that stresses the importance of a discrimination-free work environment. For instance, an employer may not retaliate against workers who take leave under the statute.

Workers Caring for Elderly Parents

For example, workers may be offered less flexible schedules than workers without the caregiving responsibilities or may be subject to health care cuts due to the perceived increase in the costs of covering workers with elderly parents.

Caregiving workers have rights, however. Under the Americans With Disabilities (ADA), an employee may not be discriminated against based on association with someone who has a disability as defined under the statute. Also, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides that employees with at least 1250 hours of work time in the previous year may take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a sick spouse or parent.

Why Employers Should be Concerned About Family Responsibility Discrimination

An increasing concern among employers is the rising number of employees taking care of elderly parents. It brings up issues of caregiver absenteeism, a phenomena that costs companies over $25 million annually. It also raises questions about health care with the unfortunate result of employers’ limiting or terminating policies as workers with elderly parents get more expensive to carry.

Loses for employers don’t stop there, however. If an employee successfully raises a claim of family responsibility discrimination, employers could face legal costs of $500,000 on average. These cases are being brought with increasing volume in every industry by workers of all background and demographics.

Family Responsibilities Discrimination Protection at the State Level

Since federal law often applies only to large employers (with employee numbers above 50 in the case of the FMLA, or 15 in the case of Title VII), state and local laws, which typically cover smaller employers are important. Over 22 states have laws in place to protect workers against family responsibility discrimination. In addition, local ordinances provide similar protection for workers with childcare needs and/or eldercare responsibilities.

Potentially a Legal Hotbed

Family responsibility discrimination has emerged as a potentially lethal legal hotbed for employers who choose to treat workers with family and caregiving needs differently. It is important that workers know their rights and follow up on them with competent legal practitioners if necessary. If you feel your rights as a family caregiver have been violated, contact Shegerian & Associates today.