Since Congress enacted Title VII, the proportion of women who work outside the home has dramatically increased. The rise has been especially dramatic for mothers of young children, The total amount of time that couples with children spend working also has increased. Despite these changes, women continue to be many families’ primary caregivers. Workers’ responsibilities for family caregiving are not limited to childcare: as the Baby Boomer generation ages, an increasing proportion of caregiving is devoted the elderly. As with childcare, women are disproportionately responsible for caring for the elderly, including parents, spouses, and other relatives. Many workers also are responsible for caring for family members with disabilities.
- What is family responsibilities discrimination?
- Title VII
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- Other FRD Statutes
- Related Links
What is Family Responsibilities Discrimination?
Family responsibilities discrimination (“FRD”) is an umbrella term for workplace discrimination based on biases about how employees with family caregiving responsibilities will or should act. For example, employers may assume that new parents (typically mothers) will not be as committed to their jobs or as reliable as they were before they had children. Or an employer might believe that mothers “should” be home with their children and may give them assignments that do not require travel or late hours. The discrimination arises because the employer’s actions are based not on the individual employee’s performance or own desires, but rather on stereotypes.
Perhaps the most common form of FRD is known as “maternal wall” bias. Maternal wall bias is bias against women because they are mothers. Maternal wall bias tends to be triggered at one of three moments when maternity becomes salient –- when a woman announces her pregnancy (or begins to appear pregnant), when she returns from maternity leave, or when she switches from full-time work to a flexible work arrangement. Maternal wall bias is also implicated in the common “lack of fit” pattern of FRD, which involve an employer’s assumption that a particular -– usually high-powered –- job is inappropriate for a mother. The employer typically channels the mother toward more “suitable” employment roles, typically into jobs with little or no opportunity for advancement.
While there is no federal statute that expressly protects workers from adverse employment actions based on their family caregiving responsibilities, there are several federal statutes that can be used to protect these workers. The most commonly used statutes is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) also provides key protections, and other statutes, such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), and Title IX have also been successfully used to protect family caregivers in the workplace. State and local laws and common law causes of action also play a part.
Employees seeking redress for FRD have occasionally made innovative arguments under statutes typically used for other purposes. One example is an action for tortious interference with business relations where a supervisor in a large company interfered with a caregiver’s ability to do his or her job, such as withholding resources needed by a salesperson to meet a quota. Additionally, in situations where women have been fired for taking maternity leave at companies that are too small to fall within the ambit of Title VII or state anti-discrimination laws, wrongful discharge actions have been brought.