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Protecting Yourself From Familial Responsibility Discrimination

Whether it’s caring for a parent, spouse, or child, most workers deal with some form of familial or family responsibility during their careers. Unfortunately, not all employers understand their employee’s responsibilities, choosing instead to harass, discriminate, and stereotype employees because of their duties.

Thankfully, employees receive protections from familial responsibility discrimination (“FRD”) through several federal and state statutes. It is essential to understand these laws to know what protections you have as an employee and ensure that your employer treats you fairly.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Most familial responsibility protections lie under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its amendment, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlines what discrimination protections exist for employees and prohibits employers from engaging in FRD.

Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 prohibits the following types of familial responsibility discrimination practices:

  • Disparate Treatment – Employers may not treat employees differently due to their household responsibilities;
  • Disparate Impact – Employers cannot implement policies that disproportionately affect employees with particular familial responsibilities;
  • Harassment – Employers may not intimidate, scrutinize, or overwork an employee due to their familial responsibilities;
  • Failure to Promote – Employers cannot deny employees promotions or raises due to their familial responsibilities or because they believe that their domestic duties would make them unfit for the job;
  • Retaliation – Employers cannot take disciplinary or retaliatory actions against employees in response to their familial responsibilities; and
  • Gender Stereotypes – Employers cannot discriminate against employees due to stereotypes of their familial responsibilities.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was created as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, intended to prevent the most common form of familial responsibility discrimination, known as “maternal wall” bias. Maternal wall bias is a bias against pregnant women and new mothers, which some employers see unfit for their job due to their new familial responsibilities. You can find more information on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act here.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993

Most familial responsibility discrimination cases brought under Title VII also overlap with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993(“FMLA”). This Act gives certain employees 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave per year and requires that their benefits be maintained during their leave.

For employees to be eligible for FMLA, leave they must have worked for their employer for at least twelve months and have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past twelve months, and their employer must employ 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

Under 29 U.S.C § 2601, eligible employees can take FMLA leave for:

  • The birth and or care of a newborn child of an employee;
  • To care for an immediate family member with s serious mental or physical health condition;
  • To take medical leave if they are unable to work because of a serious health condition;

The FMLA prevents employers from taking any discriminatory or retaliatory action against employees for taking medical leave to take care of a family member. You can find more information about the FMLA here.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Congress created the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to protect employees with disabilities from discrimination in employment. Still, the Act also contains protections for these individuals’ family members and caretakers.

Under the ADA, employers are prohibited from denying employees promotions or employment due to the possibility that their association with a paralyzed or disabled family member might impact their job performance.

Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974

The Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974(“ERISA”) established private sector employee pension and benefit plan standards. Although Congress created the Act to protect employees’ pension plans, it has also been used to combat family responsibility discrimination.

Employers sometimes deny benefits to employees due to their familial responsibilities, typically due to an employee’s family member(s) requiring abnormally high medical bills, increasing financial strain on the employer’s benefit plan. Under the Act, employers are prohibited from denying or withholding employee benefits due to familial responsibilities.

How can we help?

In addition to federal laws, several state and local jurisdictions have statutes that protect employees from familial responsibility discrimination. Here at , we help you understand your rights as an employee, determine if you have a discrimination complaint, and help you pursue your complaint with the EEOC or other local agency. Contact us today!