Frequently Asked Questions About Family Responsibilities Discrimination
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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, breastfeeding women, 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 ideas of how they will or should act given their family responsibilities.
Is Family Responsibilities Discrimination illegal?
There is no standalone federal law specifically banning Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD) but FRD is prohibited by a number of laws. The law that applies will depend on the type of FRD experienced.
Laws used to challenge FRD include:
- Presidential Executive Order 13152 prohibiting discrimination against federal government employees based on “parental status.”
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits sex discrimination
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act which 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 (or have tried to take) FMLA-protected leave to provide caretaking for a family member or in connection with the birth or adoption of a child.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on affiliation with a person with disabilities
- Various other laws such as the Equal Pay Act, ERISA, and state and local laws. For example, 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.
Who is considered family?
It depends on the situation. Most commonly:
- Parent, whether biological, adoptive, step parent or foster parent (or any other individual who cared for/financially supported the employee on a day-to-day basis as a parent would)
- Child, whether they are a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward (or a child who the employee provides day-to-day care or financial support for as a parent would)
- Spouse, typically as defined in the state of residence. It may include non-married partners, domestic partners, or common-law married partners.
Should parents or other caregivers get preferential treatment?
No. Caregivers should be treated just the same as any other employee, without regard to their caregiving responsibilities.
What should an employee do if they face FRD?
It depends on the facts of the situation–there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Here are general suggestions of steps that employees can take, but if you need specific or legal advice, it would be wise to consult with an attorney:
- Make sure you understand the facts correctly, and if you think it is appropriate, ask the 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.”).
- Keep notes of statements made and any changes to your working conditions.
- 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.
How can employers prevent FRD?
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. The Center for WorkLife Law offers training and education FRD and how to prevent it. 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.