Mothers of young children are almost twice as likely to be employed today than their counterparts were 30 years ago, according to the EEOC. In addition to childcare duties, many of today's employees have caregiving responsibilities for elderly and disabled relatives.
The prevalence of caregivers in the workplace can lead to the following stereotypes, the EEOC warns:
"Employment decisions based on such stereotypes violate the federal antidiscrimination statutes, even when an employer acts upon such stereotypes unconsciously or reflexively," the EEOC states.
In its report, Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities, the EEOC notes that making employment decisions based on stereotypes is illegal "because the antidiscrimination laws entitle individuals to be evaluated as individuals rather than members of groups having certain average characteristics."
Family duty discrimination can target employees including pregnant women, mothers and fathers of small children and those with aging parents or sick spouses, according to the Hastings College of Law at the University of California.
"They may be rejected for hire, passed over for promotion, demoted, harassed, or terminated — despite good performance — simply because their employers make personnel decisions based on stereotypical notions of how they will or should act given their family responsibilities," the law school explains.
Most family duty lawsuits filed against employers fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as various state and federal statutes. (See right-hand box for some of the laws involved.)
The key to a family responsibilities discrimination case is not gender discrimination. Rather, it is job bias against anyone — male, female, parent or non-parent — based on stereotypes about caregivers.
The first major decision in family responsibilities discrimination was Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., in which the Supreme Court in 1971 ruled that employers could not refuse to hire women with school-aged children while hiring men with children the same age. Essentially, organizations cannot have separate hiring rules for men and women.
It is important that employers recognize the potential for liability and take necessary steps to avoid getting in legal trouble. Keeping that in mind, here are six tips:
For assistance with your organization's policies, procedures, handbook and training, consult with your attorney and HR advisors. To read the EEOC report, click here.
The EEOC "strongly encourages employers to adopt best practices to make it easier for all workers, whether male or female, to balance work and personal responsibilities. There is substantial evidence that workplace flexibility enhances employee satisfaction and job performance."
- EEOC Enforcement Guidance Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
Although there is no federal law specifically prohibiting discrimination based on family responsibilities, here are some of the federal laws that have been used in these type of lawsuits (There may also be state laws that provide additional protection:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It specifically covers pregnancy-based discrimination.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work from sex-based wage discrimination.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.
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