Family caregivers seek fair treatment in the workplace

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Mothers, fathers, grown children caring for aging parents, and others too often face stigma and bias in the workplace because of their dual roles as employees and caregivers.  While no federal law explicitly protects these family members from job discrimination based on their responsibilities at home, a growing patchwork of protections exists under federal, state, and local laws relating to discrimination and leave.  Many workers have sought redress under these laws, framing their cases as impermissible sex-role stereotyping, retaliation for taking protected leave, or other forms of unfair treatment.

On Tuesday, the Center for WorkLife Law released Caregivers in the Workplace, reviewing trends in this area of litigation over the past decade.  The dramatic increase in cases over that time shows how bias against family caregivers continues to plague many workplaces.  It also argues for additional measures to combat this form of unfair treatment and prevent it from happening in the first place.

Legal clarity and education are important tools in this effort.  That is why A Better Balance advocated to include family status and caregiver status, respectively, as protected categories under the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws, and why we are working to educate the public about these newly enacted measures. As more employers become aware of the law, and train their managers and supervisors, we hope to see more acceptance of, and fewer barriers to, family caregivers participating and advancing in the workforce. Similarly, new laws in states and localities providing more explicit legal protections for pregnant workers will result in fewer lawsuits, because clarity leads to informal resolutions and preventing problems before they arise.

In addition to New York State and New York City, dozens of other localities have enacted provisions to ban discrimination in employment based on family status or responsibilities. A Better Balance also highlights, on page 20 of the Caregivers in the Workplace report, introduced legislation in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina designed to address the challenge of bias against family caregivers on the job.

As the number of workers with caregiving responsibilities has increased, so has the need for workers to have a way to ensure job security while taking care of family members.  Click here to learn more about this issue, and here to see what laws are in effect around the country.

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