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Family Responsibilities Discrimination At Work

Family responsibilities discrimination is a catch-all term that refers to the various ways caregivers and parents can face discrimination in the workplace as a result of their personal responsibilities outside of work. Discrimination against family or caregivers is prohibited by a number of federal, state, and local laws. Businesses that violate anti-discrimination laws may face an EEOC or state human rights commission complaint, litigation, and/or penalties. While the legislation may not expressly protect parents or caregivers, employers are reminded that discrimination on the basis of sex or a variety of other protected classes is illegal under federal and state law. Additionally, family leave laws may provide qualified individuals with job protection while they take time off to care for family members.


What is discrimination based on family responsibilities?

Discrimination based on family responsibilities occurs when employees who are parents or primary caregivers for their family members are treated in an inequitable manner. Discrimination against caregivers or parents is another term for this type of discrimination. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the following are examples of practices that may violate federal law:

  • Women with caregiving responsibilities are treated differently than other members of the workforce.

  • Inquiring about female applicants and employees’ caregiving responsibilities when male applicants and employees are not.

  • Retaliating against employees who take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

  • Making reasonable temporary accommodations for other employee medical conditions while omitting pregnancy accommodations.


What you need to know about discrimination based on family responsibilities

Despite progress toward a more just and equitable workplace, discrimination against parents and caregivers continues to be a serious issue. During the pandemic, awareness of the inequitable treatment of those with family responsibilities has grown. Changes in the typical workday as a result of circumstances such as the need for parents to adjust their typical workday to assist children in adjusting to virtual schooling may necessitate further discussion of human resource policies and procedures to ensure that everyone is able to perform their job regardless of their family responsibilities.

Employers have the right to discriminate against parents and caregivers.

Discrimination against parents and caregivers may be addressed through family leave legislation or civil rights laws that protect individuals based on protected classes such as race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, and disability. For instance, ingrained stereotypes could influence an employer’s decision not to advance a woman with young children, a violation of civil rights laws. Businesses must comply with federal, state, and local laws requiring them to provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination. Failure to comply with the law, or even creating the perception of noncompliance, can increase the risk of claims and potential lawsuits.


What Are the Differences Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Employees?

Discrimination laws regarding familial responsibilities

There is no single piece of legislation that addresses all facets of discrimination against family responsibility. Rather than that, employees must become familiar with a variety of federal laws that may be invoked in the event an employee brings a family responsibility discrimination claim.

Title VII — As a component of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, this legislation prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Americans with Disabilities Act — Ensures disabled Americans have equal opportunities in the workplace and in daily life.

The Family and Medical Leave Act — Ensures job security and benefits continuation for employees who need time off to care for an ill family member.

1978 Civil Service Reform Act — Prevents federal employees from being discriminated against on the basis of marital or parental status.

Numerous state and local laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on family responsibility. Employers should review their federal, state, and local legal obligations regarding workplace postings, training, and maintaining a respectful work environment.


Developing a strategy to combat workplace discrimination based on family responsibilities

Businesses that fail to address instances of family responsibilities discrimination risk facing lawsuits and penalties under the aforementioned laws, as well as the loss of skilled labor. Changes in the work environment as a result of the pandemic may increase scrutiny of how parents and caregivers are treated in comparison to employees who do not currently bear the same responsibilities. This follows previously noted increases in family responsibilities claims related to eldercare, pregnancy and lactation accommodations, and male caregivers prior to the pandemic.

With so much at stake in terms of family responsibility discrimination, it is in your best interest to prioritize developing a plan and taking concrete steps to eliminate such discrimination in your organization. The following steps will assist you in getting started.


Comprehend labor laws and regulations

As discussed previously, a number of federal statutes may serve as the basis for discrimination claims based on family responsibilities. Additionally, states and municipalities may have their own laws or regulations that apply to you as an employer. It is critical for businesses to understand the legal environment in which they operate. Consultation with an experienced human resources professional or with a labor and employment attorney is a prudent first step. Once you have a firm grasp on the potential dangers, you can incorporate them into formal policies and training programs.


Reduce the number of opinions

The majority of discrimination experienced by parents and caregivers in the workplace is subtle. In the workplace, opinions about a parent’s personal life and family life choices should not be expressed. Apart from being irrelevant to employees or managers, expressing such opinions may bolster an employee’s discrimination claim. For instance, a manager’s comment on how quickly a woman returns to work following maternity leave, requests for time off due to family obligations, or other family-related choices can expose the employer to potential claims of discrimination. This type of behavior may also be associated with team members leaving the workplace due to a hostile perception.


Look for and eliminate evidence of bias.

Discrimination against parents and caregivers can take a variety of forms in the workplace. This could include not hiring them for open positions or not promoting them. This bias can also be subtle but equally pernicious, such as viewing employees who require time off to care for family members or who wish to explore flexible work arrangements negatively. When discrimination is ingrained in a company’s culture, it may be necessary to conduct an independent, systemic evaluation in order to eliminate and prevent future problems.