Family Caregiver Discrimination Laws: What's Happening Today?
At least 63 local governments in 22 states, including some of the nation's major urban areas, have passed employment anti-discrimination laws that go beyond federal and state statutes to ensure that those with caregiving responsibilities are not discriminated against at work. Cases filed under these local laws have the potential to result in substantial damages, fines, and attorneys fees.
The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law recently released the first comprehensive nationwide survey of state and local laws that prohibit family responsibilities discrimination (FRD). FRD occurs when employees are penalized at work—fired, demoted, denied promotions or employment benefits, or harassed—because of their caregiving responsibilities at home, whether for children, an ill partner, or an elderly relative. While most of the local laws cover parents and those with responsibilities for children, more and more are going further to include other caregiving relationships.
The new report shows that, going beyond state and federal statutes, cities and counties have taken it upon themselves to ensure their residents are not discriminated against in public and private employment settings based on familial status or responsibilities.
The laws surveyed specifically include parental status, familial status, or family responsibilities as a protected class in employment protections—similar to sex, race, and religion. Most call for administrative redress, fines, or injunctive relief. Many allow for monetary awards for damages, some including punitive damages and attorneys' fees.
"While awareness of the issue of caregiver discrimination is growing, few know that a significant number of city and county laws specifically include familial status or responsibilities as a protected class in employment anti-discrimination protections," says Stephanie Bornstein, associate director of the Center and co-author of the report. "Communities around the country, from Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston to smaller cities and counties, have passed laws that go beyond what state and federal law requires when it comes to protecting workers from being penalized for their responsibilities at home."
In recent years, family responsibilities discrimination has gained increased attention, most notably when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued Enforcement Guidance on caregiver discrimination in 2007, and suggested best practices for employers in 2009. The Center for WorkLife Law's new report details laws on the local level that offer worker protections in addition to federal law.
"This report makes clear that employers must carefully weigh their employment policies and practices against not only federal and state laws that allow employees to sue for caregiver discrimination, but now against a patchwork of local laws that provide express protections too," noted Bornstein.
To Learn More
The Center for WorkLife Law works with employees, employers, attorneys, unions, and policymakers to develop effective measures to address family responsibilities discrimination and other work/life issues. The full report, Caregivers as a Protected Class: The Growth of State and Local Laws Prohibiting Family Responsibilities Discrimination, is available online.
For background information on the 2007 EEOC guidance, see the July 2007 issue of Caring Right at Home. Coverage of the 2009 "Best Practices" guidelines may be found on the EEOC website.
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