A report by WorkLife Law provides great insight into the current state of Family Responsibilities Discrimination litigation. The report states that there is a “400% increase in the number of FRD cases filed in the past decade and an average verdict of more than $500,000. Employees prevail in about half of the cases – significantly more frequently than in other types of employment cases.”
As an executive or member of the HR team, you understand the negative impact that these incidents have on your workplace. These are important issues that need to be corrected in many work environments, as these cases are getting the attention of media and further enforcement established by the EEOC.
The WorkLife Law Deputy Director states that “laws are broken when supervisors make assumptions about the value of employees based on their family caregiving responsibilities and then take negative personnel actions, regardless of the employees’ actual performance.” Employers have the ability to protect themselves against these lawsuits.
Through establishing effective and easy to use prevention programs- including the training of supervisors so that they have the ability to recognize these types of assumptions and remove these stereotypes from the workplace, employers will be better equipped to handle changes in the lives of their employees.
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Caregivers: Not a Protected Class
One of the most confusing areas surrounding FRD claims is that caregivers are not a protected class under the law. Many of the complaints filed against a company regarding family related discrimination are filed under:
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Family and Medical Leave Act
- Age and sexual discrimination- whether a male or female is taking care of young children or elderly parents, if they face any negative backlash in the workplace for these actions, they are facing discrimination for being tied to a person with a disability, an aging citizen or being a parent.
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The EEOC report “Employer Best Practices for Workers With Caregiving Responsibilities” outlines some of the benefits that companies experience when they properly handle cases where employees are also caregivers:
“Employers adopting flexible workplace policies that help employees achieve a satisfactory work-life balance may experience decreased complaints of unlawful discrimination, and may also benefit their workers, their customer base, and their bottom line. Numerous studies have found that flexible workplace policies enhance employee productivity, reduce absenteeism, reduce costs and appear to positively affect profits. They also aid recruitment and retention efforts, allowing employers to retain a talented, knowledgeable workforce and save the money and time that would otherwise have been spent recruiting, interviewing, selecting and training new employees.”
Avoiding stereotypes regarding caregiving employees should be a goal established by all levels of management within every company- chances are, if an employee was a high level performer before they gave birth, they will continue to be a high level performer upon their return to work.
Employer Best Practices
The EEOC has established a list of suggestions that human resources and managers should integrate into workplace policies in order to fight the stereotype of caregiving employees and reduce the number of FRD claims that employees are making. These types of cases are becoming frequent and the price tag tied to them is significantly growing. In 2004 in California, an employee was awarded $5 224 273 because she was laid off for being pregnant. Many other cases that are brought public are also being awarded figures in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Businesses today cannot afford to be tangled in these types of litigations, therefore, you must establish a workplace culture that embraces those who are caregivers for members of their family.
- Training managers about laws that protect caregivers
- Developing and enforcing a policy that states the employer will not discriminate against employees based on their care giving obligations
- Ensuring managers comply with the company’s work/life policies
- Responding effectively to complaints of caregiver discrimination
- Protecting employees who complain of discrimination from retaliation
- Reviewing existing personnel policies to ensure they do not disadvantage caregivers
- Making overtime as family-friendly as possible
- Reassigning job duties that employees are unable to perform because of pregnancy or other care giving responsibilities
- Providing reasonable personal or sick leave to allow care giving
- Developing the potential of all employees, including caregivers
- Providing support and resources to assist employees with caregiving