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Caregiver discrimination: 7 traps to avoid

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Countless employees juggle both work and caregiving responsibilities, which may extend beyond caring for children to caring for parents or other elderly family members or relatives with disabilities.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to boost employee morale and productivity, foster employee retention, reduce unscheduled absenteeism and become an employer of choice among applicants is to implement and maintain family-friendly policies that help employees achieve a satisfactory work/life balance.

Plus, family-friendly policies help decrease complaints of unlawful discrimination. While caregivers are not a protected class per se, stereotypes and assumptions about caregivers are often at the root of claims under Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the FMLA and the ADA.

Here are some of the most common stereotypes associated with employees with caregiving responsibilities, as well as the illegal employment actions in which they can manifest, as highlighted by the EEOC.

Stereotype #1: Women with young children will have productivity or attendance problems.

Illegal actions: Refusing to hire or provide training opportunities to mothers, but not fathers.

Stereotype #2: Mothers with young children are not as committed to their careers as fathers, women without children, or women with older children.

Illegal action: Refusing to promote or give desired assignments to mothers of young children.

Stereotype #3: Female employees with child care responsibilities cannot balance family responsibilities with work responsibilities.

Illegal action: Reassigning female employees to work fewer hours so they can tend to child care responsibilities, even though they never requested a schedule change and their performance hasn’t suffered.

Stereotype #4: Men are the breadwinners; women are the caregivers.

Illegal action: Failing to give family leave to fathers, but not mothers.

Note: The EEOC stressed that it’s a violation of Title VII to deny male employees a type of leave, unrelated to pregnancy, that is granted to female employees.

Stereotype #5: Men who are primary caregivers are not ambitious.

Illegal action: Holding a gap in employment to take care of a newborn against male applicants, but not female applicants.

Stereotype #6: Employees with a dependent with a disability will need to use more leave time.

Illegal action: Refusing to hire or promote employees based on their association with an individual with a disability.

Stereotype #7: Employees who request a special schedule (e.g., flexible work hours, work from home, part-time) to care for an elderly parent aren’t focused on the job.

Illegal action: Downgrading performance appraisals when performance has not slipped.

Note: The ADA expressly prohibits discrimination because of the disability of a person with whom an individual has a relationship or association, such as a child, spouse or parent. Under this provision, an employer may not treat an employee less favorably based on stereotypical assumptions about the employee’s ability to perform job duties satisfactorily while also providing care to an older family member.

Online resource: Access the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance at its website.

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