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Workplace Discrimination and Caregiving

If you’re a working caregiver, you may have experienced Family Responsibility Discrimination (FRD). FRD arises when employers take adverse action against employees who have caregiving responsibilities at home, whether for children, older adults, or ill or disabled family members, and it is often based on the biased assumption that caregiving duties interfere with being able to do one’s job.

A recent study by the Center for WorkLife Law found that lawsuits filed by employees with family caregiving obligations increased almost 400 percent in the past decade, a time during which the overall number of employment discrimination cases filed decreased. A small but growing number of those cases involve caring for older family members. According to the report, claims of FRD relating to eldercare involve denial of leave and retaliation for taking leave.

What federal and state protections are available to caregivers facing workplace discrimination?

Several jurisdictions in New York and New Jersey have adopted their own family caregiver protection laws, including Westchester County, the City of Newark, and the City of Passaic, among others. Both the State of New York and New York City have considered enacting caregiver protections in recent years.

Under federal law, however, the legal protections that apply to caregivers are limited. The Americans with Disabilities Act has some protections against discrimination for those associated with the disabled; the Family and Medical Leave Act provides for unpaid leave to some employees for up to 12 weeks per year to care for family members with serious health conditions; the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination based upon gender, including discriminating against women based on stereotypes of women as primary caregivers for their children; and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance suggesting that employers develop policies more favorable to caregivers.

What can be done to help those facing Family Responsibility Discrimination?

Employers would do well to realize that the percentage of the workforce assuming caregiving duties is only going to grow as the American population ages. According to a study by MetLife, almost 10 million people over the age of 50 are caring for their parents. And the AARP estimates that 42 percent of workers in the United States have provided unpaid eldercare in the past five years, and that 49 percent expect to be caregivers in the next five years.

Adopting fair and sensible policies will be critical to reducing claims of FRD. As Cynthia Thomas Calvert of the Center for WorkLife Law states: “Employers can strengthen their hands by educating themselves about family responsibilities discrimination and by training their supervisors on both their legal obligations and best practices for managing today’s challenging workforce.”