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Caregiver Discrimination in the Workplace

July 29th, 2020

In-home caregivers fill a multitude of roles, including caring for small children, family members, and incapacitated adults. Since professional caregivers deal with various tasks and people, the scope and nature of caregiving can vary widely, depending on the needs of the person being cared for. Unfortunately, employment discrimination is common in the caregiver industry, including those who provide care in addition to their regular jobs.

When a person needs assistance with daily tasks because of age or due to some kind of disability, the responsibility mostly falls on loved ones. Caring for a family member can be time-consuming, depending on how much assistance the family member requires, and it can also be a significant mental and emotional burden. These responsibilities can force caregivers to spend time away from work, which may result in retaliatory action by their employers.

Caregiver discrimination in the workplace, also known as family responsibilities discrimination (FRD), can take numerous forms. Workers may be passed over for promotions or demoted from current roles, they may see their salary or benefits reduced, they may be denied time off while others’ requests are granted, or they may be face wrongful termination. They may also face harassment from managers. While there is no comprehensive federal legislation that prohibits FRD, many forms of caregiver discrimination are illegal under existing civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.

Pregnant Workers Often Encounter Caregiver Discrimination

Pregnant caregivers often face pregnancy discrimination at work. Concerns based on assumptions that pregnancy will impact work duties or future availability may motivate employers to fire or demote workers, refuse to hire them, or give promotions to someone else, even if they do not have the same qualifications.

In some cases, employees keep their employment status during their maternity leave but are terminated when they return to work. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which specifically prohibits workplace discrimination based on pregnancy. Still, pregnancy remains one of the most common causes for discrimination claims made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Working parents are common fixtures in all industries, especially as it becomes more difficult for families to survive on one salary. As with pregnancy, employers can sometimes make assumptions about workers with families and may treat them differently than those without children. Non-parents may be promoted faster than parents or given opportunities not offered to parents, despite them being more qualified.

In some cases, parents may be denied flexible scheduling or time-off needed to care for children, whereas similar requests for other commitments may be granted. An employee who is breastfeeding needs time and space in the office to pump milk, which an employer may be reluctant to provide.

Children are not the only ones who may need additional supervision and care. Aging parents who are no longer capable of living independently and relatives with serious illnesses or physical or cognitive disabilities may also need assistance, which can include occasional help with certain tasks or constant care. Employees who are responsible for this care may face similar difficulties as parents when requesting time off or other accommodations, such as limits to work-related travel. Employers may see their commitments at home as a lack of dedication and may pass them over for promotions or demote them.

Caregiving and Gender Discrimination

Historically, caregiving responsibilities were tasks performed by women, which has contributed to unfair stereotypes about their work dedication. Employers may assume that younger women will be planning to have children and not take their career advancement seriously. This type of discrimination can start in the interview room and carry through to discussions about promotions, assignments, and salary. Many women take on caregiving roles in their later years as well, which can stunt their career growth if employers are not willing to make reasonable accommodations.

Gender roles have been shifting recently, however, and assumptions that women will take on caregiving responsibilities can have negative impacts on men in the workforce. While many workplaces have policies in place for maternity leave, they may not offer new fathers opportunities to stay at home with their babies, or they may be offered shorter paternity leave. Discussions about overtime and additional assignments may not account for a man’s responsibilities at home, while they would account for a woman’s responsibilities.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex and gender discrimination. This includes discrimination based on sex stereotypes, and a recent Supreme Court ruling confirmed that it also protects employees against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. This is a vital piece of legislation that helps to protect employees against sexual harassment, but it also has important implications for parents who experience different treatment.

Which Laws Protect Caregivers?

Title VII is not the only legislation protecting caregivers. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for family members who are sick or disabled. The 12 weeks does not have to be taken all at once and can be taken an hour at a time if needed, which is helpful for doctor’s appointments and other health-related commitments. Workers who are out on family leave cannot be demoted or terminated during this time or face other adverse changes to their employment status.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects disabled employees from workplace discrimination and requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for them as needed. This includes accommodations for pregnant employees and those dealing with temporary medical conditions. Accommodations can include adjusting responsibilities to be less physically demanding and flexibility in scheduling. The ADA also covers employees with disabled loved ones who may need accommodations to meet caregiving obligations.

Caregiving can have costs associated with it that can impact employers. Employees who count relatives with serious illnesses or disabilities as dependents have increased insurance costs, which employers may try to avoid. The Employment Retirement Security Act (ERISA) forbids employers from basing employment decisions, including hiring, firing, promotion, or demotion, on an employee’s insurance needs. This means that employers cannot change an employee’s eligibility for benefits because the employee cares for family members who may need additional assistance.

Is it Common for Professional Caregivers to Face Discrimination?

Workers with caregiver responsibilities outside of their normal business activities are not the only ones who face discrimination. Professional care providers are often employed by agencies who place them with clients based on their needs. In-home caregivers may be more susceptible to discrimination because they have to deal with the biases of clients. Even if agencies do not have any racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory policies, agencies can face discrimination claims if they give in to clients’ requests to have caregivers of particular race, orientation, or gender. Caregivers who are harassed or assaulted by clients due to protected characteristics may also be able to bring claims against their employers for failing to provide safe working conditions.

What Can Happen if I Refuse to Perform Discriminatory Requests?

If a worker fails to accommodate discriminatory requests, it may affect their job status. Employers may try to disguise their discriminatory actions as discipline for poor performance. Workers suffering from FRD may start to see write-ups for minor infractions, negative performance reviews, or similarly fabricated records to try to justify the actions taken against them. Additionally, if a caregiver is experiencing discrimination at work, it is advisable to speak to a lawyer immediately.

Philadelphia Employment Discrimination Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Fight for the Rights of Caregivers

Our Philadelphia employment discrimination lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. provide comprehensive representation to caregivers who face workplace discrimination. We will fight tirelessly to get you the best possible outcome so that you can focus on the health and safety of your loved ones or clients. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County and Montgomery County.

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