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What Is Family Responsibilities Discrimination?

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that of 41 countries considered “first world” nations, only the United States does not grant a single day of paid parental leave after the birth of a child. This is only the beginning of what many see as unfair and out-of-touch policies and beliefs regarding parents and their workplace responsibilities, despite the general push in U.S. society to marry and have children. “Family responsibilities discrimination” is a catch-all term that has recently begun to be used to characterize discriminatory policies and actions taken against caregivers, regardless of gender.

Indirect Gender Discrimination

While family responsibility discrimination falls on parents and caregivers of all genders, it tends to affect women disproportionately. Historically, mothers were expected to bear most of the family burdens, even to the point of staying home to raise the children. The responsibility of elder care would also traditionally fall on women, who were thought to be ‘better’ at the practice. However, with rising inflation and stagnant wages, women began to return to the workforce earlier and earlier, often out of basic necessity. As such, women in particular have had to become adept at a difficult balancing act that includes getting needs met while facing employers’ often out-of-touch ideas about caregiving.

Many types of family responsibilities discrimination are thus indirect manifestations of societal sexism. Women are often disciplined or face negative employment action due to failure to conform to an employer’s preconceived notions of how female workers are ‘supposed’ to behave. Alternatively, a woman who is able to juggle her family and work responsibilities might wind up in a hostile work environment because her employer believes she is not paying the ‘right’ amount of attention to either. This can, depending on the situation, be an indirect form of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because it is discriminating against a worker based on a discrete set of expectations and stereotypes.

Leave-Based & FMLA Discrimination

Another common method by which caregivers are often discriminated against is in dealing with time off and leave requests, especially under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Not everyone is protected under the FMLA, especially those who have not worked for their employer for a long enough period, but for those who do qualify, it is possible to sue under the FMLA for causes of action like interference with leave and denial of leave. By law, employers may not interfere with leave requests. The relevant statute explicitly states that an employer may not “interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise” any right specified.

While in theory, any suspect interference with or denial of FMLA leave may be actionable, employers are notorious for trying to interfere with such requests for caregiving reasons, such as fathers requesting leave to take care of newborns. Such requests very often do not fit the employer’s perception of familial roles, and an unethical employer may take steps to deny the leave request because they may believe the father’s presence is not necessary. There are cases precedent that point out the discriminatory nature of such denials (nevermind the statutory violations), thus providing a springboard of sports for caregiver discrimination to be alleged under the FMLA.

Seek Experienced Legal Help

Because so much discriminatory action is cloaked in a veneer of respectability, it can be hard to determine when you are being discriminated against and when you are just the recipient of bad luck. If you have questions about caregiver discrimination, contacting an employment law attorney can help clarify them. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has handled many of these types of cases, and the firm of Hitchcock & Potts will work hard to help you with yours. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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