Employment Responsibilities and Rights for Caregivers

 Ideally, a workplace is where people can come together to accomplish common goals. Unfortunately, workplace discrimination and harassment often get in the way normal operations —  in particular, employees commonly face discrimination because of their family responsibilities. This happens when employees who act as caregivers to loved ones and family members are treated less favorably at work. This includes parents with small children, adults who are taking care of aging parents, or workers who take care of loved ones or family members who are ill or disabled. Employees who are pregnant or who employers think may become pregnant in the future also often face discrimination.

Like other forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace, discrimination against employees because of their caregiver responsibilities shouldn’t be tolerated. In the worst cases, family responsibilities discrimination can result in a hostile work environment and even retaliation against employees who complain. While there are no federal laws in place related to caregiver discrimination, employees may be covered thanks to other protections, like the Equal Pay Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. There may also be additional state and local regulations that protect workers who are caregivers from unfair discrimination.

Examples of Family Responsibilities Discrimination

Family responsibilities discrimination can take a variety of forms. While sometimes this discrimination is fairly obvious, in other cases it can be harder to spot. Examples of family responsibilities discrimination include:

  • Practicing employment discrimination by refusing to hire an employee because they are pregnant or may become pregnant;
  • Wrongfully firing a single parent due to a need for reasonable accommodations in order to care for their children;
  • Refusing to promote an employee on the basis of their need to work from home to care for an elderly parent;
  • Penalizing employees for needing to leave work to care for an ill or disabled dependent;
  • Assuming that male workers have fewer caregiving responsibilities than female workers;
  • Assuming that female workers with children will be less committed to their careers and do not deserve advancement opportunities;
  • Refusing to grant reasonable accommodations to employees who may need a flexible schedule or time away from work to care for dependents.

Laws Governing Family Responsibilities Discrimination

There is no single, simple law that broadly covers family responsibilities discrimination. Instead, this type of discrimination is governed by many different laws and precedents that cover individual aspects of this type of discrimination. In addition to federal laws, there may also be state or local laws regarding family responsibilities discrimination depending on where you live. Some examples of legislation that touches on caregiver discrimination include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents employment discrimination;
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects against discrimination toward employees with disabilities;
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which helps to ensure parity of compensation between men and women in the workplace;
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 unpaid weeks of leave per year, including for childbirth, adoption, or other caregiving responsibilities;
  • Local and state laws that prevent family responsibilities discrimination;
  • Internal company policies designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace on the basis of caregiver responsibilities.

Penalties for Family Responsibilities Discrimination

There are a variety of potential penalties for engaging in family responsibilities discrimination as an employer. One of the most common penalties is to be found in violation of the Civil Rights Act by declining to hire potential employees who are perceived as having greater caregiving responsibilities, particularly women who are pregnant or have children. If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your responsibilities as a caregiver, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You may also be able to sue your employer for discrimination. If you’re unsure what your options are, you can also get legal help to guide you through the process.

There are certain circumstances under which an employer isn’t responsible for injuries or discrimination in the workplace, and won’t have to pay any compensatory damages. For example, if an employee has an assumption of risk for their job, employers may be protected. States with at-will employment laws may also have additional protections for employers. 

Depending on your employment agreement and whether or not it includes an indemnification clause, employers may or may not be responsible for injuries and discrimination experienced on the job, such as construction injuries or other workplace injuries. If an employee signs a hold harmless agreement or liability waiver, that may protect employers against any potential lawsuits as well. However, employees may still have legal recourse if they experience negligence in the workplace or face discrimination as a caregiver or for any other reason.

Best Practices for Businesses 

Many businesses may not be aware of family responsibilities discrimination as a general concept, but this is one of the many legal topics all business owners should get familiar with. There is often a blurry line between discriminating against employees for their responsibilities outside of work and rewarding employees who are extremely dedicated to their work. However, since a large portion of the workforce cares for dependents and family members at home, it’s important to treat employees fairly and to understand that outside obligations are sometimes more important than time spent at work.

Family responsibilities discrimination can affect workers who are pregnant or may become pregnant, who have children or aging parents, who care for an ill or disabled loved one, or who have other caregiving responsibilities at home. In order to avoid discriminating against employees on the basis of family responsibilities, employers should:

  • Make equitable hiring decisions when it comes to male and female applicants, regardless of whether or not they have children or may plan to have children in the future;
  • Be understanding of caregivers’ needs and provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace whenever possible;
  • Fairly compensate and reward employees for their work, even if they need accommodations related to their caregiving responsibilities;
  • Take steps to create a family-friendly workplace culture;
  • Review policies and procedures that may have a negative impact on caregivers;
  • Establish a process through which employees can voice complaints associated with family responsibilities discrimination.

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