What is Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD)?
Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD), also called caregiver discrimination, is employment discrimination against workers based on their family caregiving responsibilities. Pregnant women, mothers and fathers of young children, and employees with aging parents or sick spouses or partners may encounter FRD. They may be rejected for hire, passed over for promotion, demoted, harassed, or terminated — despite good performance — simply because their employers make personnel decisions based on stereotypical notions of how they will or should act given their family responsibilities.
What laws prohibit family responsibilities discrimination?
There is no federal law that expressly prohibits FRD, but some state and local laws do. Alaska has a statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on “parenthood”, and the District of Columbia has a law that prohibits employment discrimination based on family responsibilities. A number of cities and counties have similar provisions, including Cook County, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Tampa. An Executive Order prohibits discrimination against federal government employees based on “parental status.” Even without a statute that expressly prohibits FRD, employees are protected by several statutes from discrimination based on their caregiving obligations. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination; many FRD claims are brought under Title VII if they involve treatment of women with children that is different from treatment of men with children, if they involve stereotyping of women as mothers, or if they involve denial to male caregivers of leave or benefits available to female caregivers. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women from discrimination based on their pregnancy, plans to become pregnant, and childbirth. The Family and Medical Leave Act prohibits discrimination or retaliation against employees who have taken FMLA-protected leave, and it has been used to protect employees who take leaves in connection with the birth or adoption of a child or to take care of a seriously ill family member. Other statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Pay Act, and ERISA, also contain protections.
What is the best way for an employer to prevent FRD claims?
The best way to prevent FRD in the workplace is to make sure that all supervisors, managers, and HR professionals are educated about what FRD is and the workplace situations in which it commonly arises. An essential component of this training is education about why FRD arises. Other good prevention steps include adding FRD to existing anti-discrimination policies, reviewing policies (such as attendance, leave, and promotion) to make sure they are not biased against caregivers, and instituting a procedure to use in responding to complaints.
What should an employee do if he or she faces FRD in the workplace?
The answer necessarily depends on the facts of the situation, the nature of the employer’s organization, and the personalities involved, so it is not possible to give a one-size-fits-all answer. Also, it is not the role of WorkLife Law or this FAQ to give legal advice, so employees with FRD issues would be wise to consult with an attorney. As a general rule, however, a good first step is to make sure that the employee understands the facts correctly and then, if the employee thinks it is appropriate, to ask his or her supervisor why the action that seems discriminatory was taken. The question shouldn’t be accusatory or threatening, but just a request for information (“I was wondering if you could tell me why I wasn’t considered for the XYZ promotion” or “It seems to me that since my mother has been in the hospital, my hours are being scrutinized a lot more than anyone else’s and I’m getting written up for being tardy when others who are even later than I am aren’t. If you can tell me why, I’d appreciate it.”). A good second step may be to raise concerns with the employer’s HR department. Other possible steps include calling or emailing the WorkLife Law hotline, contacting an employment attorney, and contacting a local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a state agency that addresses equal employment opportunity issues.
Does FRD mean that parents and other caregivers should get preferential treatment in the workplace?
No. Caregivers should be treated just the same as any other employee, without regard to their caregiving responsibilities. If an employee would hold open the job of a man who is recovering from a heart attack or back surgery or other temporary medical condition, then the employer should also hold open the job of a woman who is on leave for childbirth. If an employer allows some employees to take time off during the week to play golf, teach, or participate in volunteer activities, the employer should also allow employees to take some time off during the week for child-related activities or to take an aging parent to the doctor. If, on the other hand, an employer has a policy that is applied to everyone even-handedly, such as requiring all employees to be on-site at least between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the employer does not have to treat caregivers differently.