Nearly every American employee either is a caregiver or will be at some time -- usually to a child, spouse or parent. At some point, that will necessitate taking time off work. It could be a day or two to stay home with a sick child, or it could involve a flexible schedule to take an aging parent to medical appointments.
Caregiving responsibilities are only going to grow as our population ages. About half of employees say they anticipate that they'll be providing care to elderly family members within five years.
Employers Are Paying the Price for Discrimination
Not all businesses handle their employees' needs for flexibility and time off for caregiving responsibilities with the compassion one would hope. The ones that don't are increasingly paying the price -- literally.
A recent report found that in the last ten years, the number of lawsuits for caregiver discrimination or "family responsibilities discrimination" (FRD) has grown a whopping 269 percent. Employees have won in the majority of FRD cases, and prevailed in over two-thirds of cases that went to trial.
What Constitutes Caregiver Discrimination in the Workplace?
The report, authored by a senior advisor at the Hastings College of Law's Center for WorkLife Law in California, describes it as "an adverse employment action based on unexamined biases about how workers with family caregiving responsibilities will or should act, without regard to the workers' actual performance." This could include an employer's refusal to let an employee take needed time off as well as retaliation in the form of being denied a promotion or even being fired.
Why aren't employers being more responsive to the needs of the caregivers in their companies? The report's author blames it in part on biases (conscious or unconscious) by employers who don't have caregiver responsibilities. They may simply not understand their employees' situation.
What Are Employees' Legal Options?
Further, the laws have not yet caught up with growing caregiving responsibilities of American workers. Currently, it's up to states and cities to enact laws that protect caregivers from workplace discrimination. There is no federal law that does so.
Until businesses are either mandated to stop this discrimination or simply determine that it's not in the best interest of the company or its employees, legal action may be the only solution. Employment discrimination attorneys can advise workers on their options based on their situation and the laws of their state.
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