New EEOC Guidance on Caregiver Discrimination

Thu, April 23, 2009

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My word of the day is “irony.”

I was supposed to attend the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing about updated guidance on caregiver discrimination in the workplace to live blog it for MomsRising. Then my nine-year-old daughter got sick and was home from school, so I couldn’t attend. Fortunately, there are other ways to skin a cat, and the EEOC made sure I got the links to their documents and the testimony.

The updated EEOC guidance is in response to the ever-increasing numbers of jobs being lost in this tight economy and the fear that employers may, in times of needing to cut jobs, use inappropriate and illegal criteria when it comes to working parents and other caregivers. There might be instances when job cuts can’t be helped, but using care giving responsibilities as an excuse is often prohibited by federal law in a variety of circumstances.

While caregivers are protected under a variety of federal anti-discrimination laws, many gender based stereotypes remain that wrongfully influence employers’ hiring and firing decisions and pregnancy discrimination is apparently on the rise. The good news is that the EEOC has stepped up and issued its new guidelines, along with posting the testimony of a variety of experts, to make sure that businesses know where the lines are and which ones they can’t step across.

There are reports that employers are cutting flexible work arrangements because they are too costly or employees are giving them up out fear that using them will cost them their jobs. But Cynthia Calvert of The Center for WorkLife Law reminded the EEOC in her testimony:

[Employers need to provide] training for managers, supervisors, and human resources professionals about the causes and common patterns of [family responsibilities discrimination by] adopting a policy stating that the employer will not discriminate based on family caregiving obligations, and reviewing other policies such as those relating to hiring, attendance, leave and promotion, to ensure they do not negatively impact caregivers.

Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, reiterated he importance of employers focusing on these issues because:

… both men and women are overwhelmingly likely to be working, most families do not have a stay-at-home parent or anyone available to provide care if a family member falls ill. This means that most workers are also caregivers.

But not everyone believes that and that’s probably the biggest reason we need to ensure the laws are being enforced and employers are aware of these updated guidelines. Interestingly, a comment on an unrelated post at my blog reflects that:

On behalf of The Powers That Be, take my word for it that [a woman is] free to be as successful in business as you wish, right up to the point at which you reschedule a meeting because you want to be at a soccer game or call in sick because your little one is ill.

Unfortunately, I am sure that commenter isn’t the only power that feels that way. Here’s hoping that Mr. “Powers That Be” and others like him will take a hint from the EEOC.

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2 Responses to “New EEOC Guidance on Caregiver Discrimination”

  1. anniegirl1138 Says:

    Was that my comment, TPTB was commenting on?

    I was a caregiver in the strictest sense to my first husband when he was ill. A year and a half I juggled a full-time job, a toddler and a dying husband who was nearly blind and suffering from rapid dementia. When I had to stay home from work to get him to the doctor or nurse him through a crisis it was because I was the only one available to do it. It was some whimsical notion of fulfilling my “maternal instinct”. The idea that women “opt out” of “real work” to have “fun” carting kids or elderly parents around is a male perpetuated stereo-type designed to lessen the very real conflicts that women face in our society. We don’t have options or choices when it comes to some things. Women don’t have the option of having a “wife” in the June Cleaver sense that men still seem to have whether their wives work or not.

    I had a wonderful bosses and a great overall employer who recognized that what I brought to the table was valuable and worth the slack that had to be cut for me in the short term of my husband’s illness. Although it turned out to be a nearly three year ordeal, they stood by me and even after he died, they were quick to recognize I still needed a bit of time to get back to “normal”.

    We all live in world that fails to realize that workers are more than output and that work is meant to supplement having a life and not the other way around.

  2. StephLove Says:

    One of my many disappointments with academia was the degree of discrimination against mothers within it. On the surface the flexibility of working hours makes being a college professor seem compatible with parenting, but in practice it doesn’t work out that way.

    Even though I was in a field that was disproportionately female (literature), almost all the female profs I knew as a grad student were either childless or got their degrees later in life, after their children were raised. Of the female grad students I knew who went on to have kids most never found tenure-track jobs. (Most humanities Phds never do, but having kids seemed to harm our chances). I know there are plenty of other reasons I never found a tenure-track job myself but I can’t help but wonder if that was part of it.


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