Despite strides made toward providing a fair and equitable workplace, discrimination against parents and caregivers in the workforce remains a real concern. While there is no federal law prohibiting family responsibility discrimination, there are a number of federal laws that could be involved in these types of claims, including Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example. Typically, laws and regulations that focus on family responsibility discrimination exist at the state and local levels.
Companies that don't address this matter could face the possibility of lawsuits and penalties due to claims brought under the federal laws listed above and state or local laws and regulations, as well as a loss of skilled labor. Here’s a closer look at what HR leaders need to know about preventing discrimination against parents and caregivers in the workplace.
Family Responsibilities Litigation
Family responsibility discrimination cases have risen 269 percent over the last decade. At the same time, juries became increasingly willing to award large settlements to workers who have been discriminated against on the basis of their family situation. Some large firms have even faced class-action lawsuits on the same topic.
Understanding discrimination based on family responsibilities is the first step. According to the organization Workplace Fairness, this discrimination can occur against men or women. They describe family responsibilities discrimination by commenting, “this type of discrimination may happen to pregnant employees, employees caring for aging parents, parents with young children or workers who have a family member with a disability.” When an individual is fired, passed over for a promotion, assigned non-favorable shifts or paid less than their colleagues due to marital status and parental/caregiver status, discrimination may be involved.
Creating a Plan to Eliminate Discrimination Against Parents and Caregivers in Your Workforce
Eliminating discrimination is an important goal for several reasons, from retaining your best employees and promoting a safe and productive workplace, to eliminating potential lawsuits. Here are four steps companies can take to help address this issue:
Understand the law: As discussed above, there are a number of federal laws that may be related to claims of discrimination based on family responsibilities. In addition, many states and localities have laws or regulations that affect their jurisdiction. It's important for companies to understand the legal landscape where they do business. Obtaining experienced HR consultation or employment law consultation is a smart first step. Once you understand the potential legal claims involved, you can translate this knowledge into formal policies and training programs.
Minimize opinions: Much of the discrimination that parents and caregivers face in the workplace is subtle. Opinions regarding a parent's personal life and family life choices should not be expressed in the workplace. Besides being none of an employer’s or manager’s business, expressing such opinions could support an employee’s discrimination claim. For example, a manager commenting on how soon a woman comes back to work after maternity leave, requests for time off due to family commitments, or other family-related choices can be the basis of litigation. It has also been shown to spur team members to leave the workplace after perceiving it as hostile, or to seek alternative employment.
Look for evidence of bias and eliminate it: Discrimination against parents and caregivers in the workplace can take many forms. It may involve not hiring them for open positions or not promoting these individuals into leadership roles. This bias can also be subtle but equally insidious, such as looking unfavorably upon employees who need time off to take care of their families or those who want to explore flexible work arrangements. Discrimination can be rooted in a company's culture, and may require a systematic evaluation to eliminate and prevent it in the future.
Train your managers and workers: Many of the issues that can lead to discrimination against parents and caregivers in the workforce and potential legal liability can happen on the basis of personal interactions. It is important that your company understands the different elements of risk, and then incorporates that information into training programs for managers and workers. Offering detailed training on these issues can help raise awareness, prevent issues from arising, and help improve the overall quality of the workforce.
Discrimination against parents and caregivers in the workforce is a real concern. Companies that don't proactively address it can face legal exposure and the potential to lose talented workers. Take the time to understand what this discrimination looks like and your responsibilities under applicable law. From there, create training programs and policies that support a fair and equitable workplace.