Family Responsibilities Discrimination

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Family responsibilities discrimination, also called caregiver discrimination, is discrimination in the workplace based on an employee's responsibility, real or perceived, to care for family members. Employers may discriminate based on family responsibilities when they deny employment or promotions, harass, pay less, or otherwise take negative employment action against an employee because of the employee's family responsibilities.

Family responsibilities can include caring for a spouse, child, or parent, being pregnant, or even the chance of becoming pregnant, caring for a disabled child, or sibling or caring for an aging parent. Family responsibilities discrimination can affect almost any employee. Family responsibilities discrimination may also co-exist with marital status or family status discrimination, when unmarried and married couples are treated differently.

This page provides answers to the following questions:

1. What is family responsibilities discrimination?

2. Does FRD only apply to women?

3. What are some types of stereotypes or biases about caregivers that may result in unlawful conduct?

4. What are some types of discrimination that qualify as family responsibilities discrimination?

5. Why is FRD important?

6. Who is affected by FRD?

7. How are businesses affected by FRD?

8. What are the current laws governing FRD?

9. My employer asked me in my job interview whether or not I was married, and what my spouse did. Is this legal?

10. My company pays health insurance for all spouses, children, and domestic partners of my coworkers. I am single and don't have children or a domestic partner. Am I being discriminated against, since they receive more benefits than I do?

11. My coworker leaves early every Tuesday to pick up her kids, while I have to cover for her. I am not allowed to leave early on any day for appointments or other non-work commitments, unless I want to use leave time or have my pay docked. Is this illegal?

12. I am a single mother with a child, and am not married to my child's father. My supervisor, who is very religious, keeps asking me when I'm going to get married, and makes clear to me that she disapproves of me not being married. Can she discriminate against me?

13. I cannot work overtime every day because of my family commitments. My coworker, who is single and unmarried, works a lot of overtime. Can my boss favor her for an upcoming promotion?

14. Who enforces the law?

15. How can I file a complaint?

16. What are the remedies available to me?

17. How much time do I have to file a charge of discrimination?

18. More information about family responsibilities discrimination

1. What is family responsibilities discrimination?

Family responsibilities discrimination ("FRD") is employment discrimination that is based on workers' responsibilities to care for their family members. This type of discrimination may happen to pregnant employees, employees caring for aging parents, parents with young children or workers who have a family member with a disability. If these employees face unfair discrimination in the workplace based on responsibilities such as this, they may be experiencing FRD.

2. Does FRD only apply to women?

While caregiving responsibilities disproportionately affect working women, protections apply to all employees, including men. Relevant terms including “family,” “caregiver” and “caregiving responsibilities” extend beyond children and spouses and covers any individual that the employee has primary caretaking responsibilities.

3. What are some types of stereotypes or biases about caregivers that may result in unlawful conduct?

Some stereotypes or biases include:

4. What are some types of discrimination that qualify as family responsibilities discrimination?

Somes examples of FRD include:

5. Why is FRD important?

The EEOC recently published reports that highlight the ever-growing issue of employment discrimination facing family caregivers Seventy percent of U.S. households with children have all adults participating in the labor force.

With these statistics, it is clear that a large number of employees are either currently or potentially affected by employers who discriminate due to an employee's family responsibilities.

6. Who is affected by FRD?

If you have a job and family caregiving responsibilities, you may be affected by FRD. Women with children are most likely to encounter FRD: they are 79% less likely to be recommended for hire, 100% less likely to be promoted, and are generally offered at least $10,000 less in salary for the same position as a similarly situated male.

Increasingly, men face family responsibilities discrimination in the workplace when they seek to actively care for their children or other family members. FDR against men can take a variety of forms, for example some employers have denied male employee's requests for leave for childcare purposes even while granting female employee's requests.

7. How are businesses affected by FRD?

Businesses are often unaware that the employment actions they are taking are illegal. Employers (regardless of outcome) are subject to high litigation costs and also face the risk of high turnover rates for not recognizing the needs of employees with certain caregiving responsibilities.

It is essential for businesses to have a prevention program in place. Employers should review their hiring, attendance, promotion, incentive pay, benefits, and leave policies to ensure they are not negatively impacting employees. Businesses should train supervisors and HR personnel about what constitutes FRD and how to handle complaints. Employers should also become aware of common stereotypes, and treat all FRD complaints equally and seriously.

8. What are the current laws governing FRD?

There is no federal law that expressly prohibits FRD. Even though there is no statute expressly prohibiting FRD, employees may be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and ERISA. Some states have adopted laws, and some categories of employees, like federal employees, may have protection. For example:

9. My employer asked me in my job interview whether or not I was married, and what my spouse did. Is this legal?

While there is not a federal law that specifically prohibits such questions, most employers make it a practice not to ask such information to avoid being accused of unlawful practices such as sex discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, or invading an employee's privacy. A good practice for employers to follow is to not ask about any characteristic of the applicant that the law prohibits the employer from considering in making hiring decisions.

However, a company that has an anti-nepotism policy (which prohibits spouses or family members from working in the same company or department) may inquire whether you have a spouse or family member already working for the company.

If you are asked these questions, you may decline to answer. However, you may run the risk of offending the interviewer and losing an opportunity to compete for the job. You may wish to answer the question during the interview, and if you are hired for the job, later discuss the matter with the interviewer or the company's personnel office.

Because stereotypes that female caregivers should not, will not, or cannot be committed to their jobs are sex-based, employment decisions based on such stereotypes violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the following example, Patricia would have a valid claim under Title VII:

10. My company pays health insurance for all spouses, children, and domestic partners of my coworkers. I am single and don't have children or a domestic partner. Am I being discriminated against, since they receive more benefits than I do?

Unmarried or childless workers may lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year in employee benefits compensation. Many employers subsidize all or a large portion of health, dental, vision, and other benefits for spouses and families of married employees without giving similar compensation to unmarried and/or childless workers in some other form. However, in most states, this is not illegal discrimination, as marital and/or familial status discrimination is not against the law.

Even in states where marital status discrimination is illegal, several state laws have exceptions for benefits which permit employers to legally discriminate in the benefits provided.

One way to eliminate marital or familial status discrimination from employee benefits programs is to implement “cafeteria”-style benefits programs. In these programs, all workers, regardless of marital or familial status, receive the same amount of credits to be used for benefits, which allows them to pick and choose benefits best meeting their personal or family needs.

Giving domestic partner benefits to same-sex and heterosexual unmarried couples also helps eliminate some discrimination against unmarried workers who have a partner. Even though many states have legalized same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prevented same-sex marriages from being legally recognized by the federal government, several states still ban same-sex marriage, and in other states, courts have not yet resolved the legality of same-sex marriage bans. Some companies have adopted an "extended family" benefits program to fairly compensate unmarried employees who live with a dependent adult blood relative.

While such practices may not be required by law, employers interested in hiring and retaining valuable employees may wish to voluntarily adopt such programs. If you feel you have been treated unfairly due to your family responsibilities status, you may wish to explore with your employer's personnel or human resources department whether additional options are either currently available or under consideration, and discuss with other workers whether they also object to the difference in benefits.

11. My coworker leaves early every Tuesday to pick up her kids, while I have to cover for her. I am not allowed to leave early on any day for appointments or other non-work commitments, unless I want to use leave time or have my pay docked. Is this illegal?

While this appears to be a form of FRD, it is probably not illegal. In most states, marital status or familial discrimination is not against the law. Even if your state does recognize these forms of discrimination as illegal, being forced to temporarily cover for another employee is not likely to be considered serious enough to succeed in a discrimination complaint. Many companies have adopted “flextime” or other “family-friendly” policies which make it easier for workers with children to balance work and family commitments.

If you still believe you have been treated unfairly, you may wish to discuss this situation with coworkers, your supervisor, or your company's personnel department to determine whether the company can adopt leave policies or practices that treat employees with and without children the same, or whether the department's work can be reallocated so that no one person is required to assume the burden of a worker's absence for family reasons.

12. I am a single mother with a child, and am not married to my child's father. My supervisor, who is very religious, keeps asking me when I'm going to get married, and makes clear to me that she disapproves of me not being married. Can she discriminate against me?

Discrimination against a single mother with a child because she is unmarried would appear to be a form of marital status and/or parental status discrimination. However, some courts have held that religious organizations or organizations working with youth may discriminate against employees who do not subscribe to the organization's principles, as long as those principles are applied to all employees. If such organizations have specific principles condemning premarital sex, they have been allowed to terminate unmarried pregnant employees on the basis that they were terminated for engaging in premarital sex. However, to avoid a valid claim of sex discrimination, these employers would need to demonstrate that they do not treat men who are known to engage in premarital sex differently than women who engage in premarital sex. The latest Supreme Court decision on this issue articulated that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects religious owners of a closely held for-profit corporation in making employment decisions based on their sincere religious beliefs.

If you work for a non-religious employer, however, your employer may find it difficult to maintain a legitimate business justification for policies or practices that discriminate against unmarried women who are either pregnant or already have children. The personal religious beliefs of one supervisor in this situation would rarely, if ever, matter from a legal point of view, especially if other company employees had been treated differently. For more information on this topic visit our Religious Discrimination page.

13. I cannot work overtime every day because of my family commitments. My coworker, who is single and unmarried, works a lot of overtime. Can my boss favor her for an upcoming promotion?

While this may appear to be a form of marital status or familial discrimination, it is probably not illegal. In most states, marital status or familial discrimination is not against the law. Even if your state does recognize these forms of discrimination as illegal, your employer may argue that there is a business justification (other than discrimination) for giving your coworker the promotion, since it is going to the worker who has worked more hours and presumably has contributed more to the business. Moreover, your coworker may be feeling resentful because she is being asked to work more overtime because she is single and her commitments outside work are not considered as important as family commitments by your employer. If you are interested in advancing in your company, you may wish to speak to your supervisor about ways you can advance without working longer hours.

This situation may be prohibited as sex discrimination under Title VII, like in the following examples:

14. Who enforces the law?

Protections under state and local statutes are generally enforced by state or local antidiscrimination agencies, which may be called a “fair employment,” “civil rights,” or “human rights” commission or agency. For more information about your state and local agencies, see our page on filing a complaint.

If you are an employee of the federal government, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency that will accept your complaint of marital or parental status discrimination. For more information on OSC, please see OSC prohibited personnel practices.

15. How can I file a complaint?

To file a complaint under state and local statutes, please contact your state or local anti-discrimination agency or an attorney in your state. For more information, see our page on filing a complaint.

If you are an employee of the federal government, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency that will accept your complaint of marital or parental status discrimination. For more information on filing a complaint with OSC, please see: how to file an OSC complaint. You can download the form you will use to file a charge at: OSC Forms.

16. What are the remedies available to me?

For remedies available under state and local statutes, please contact your state or local anti-discrimination agency or an attorney in your state. For more information, see our page on filing a complaint.

For remedies available to federal employees, see OSC remedies.

17. How much time do I have to file a charge of discrimination?

Because there are many sources of federal, state, and local laws relating to discrimination based on marital status and parental status, there are too many different deadlines to summarize here. To protect your legal rights, it is always best to contact OSC, your state or local governmental agency, or an attorney promptly when discrimination is suspected. Another option if you decide to pursue legal action is to file a complaint with the EEOC office or a local EEO office. You may have as few as 180 days to file. To get more information about filing visit http://www.eeoc.gov.

18. More information about FRD:

Work Life Law: a Center of UC Hastings College of the Law
Equal Rights Advocates
A better balance: The work and family legal center
EEOC's guidelines for enforcement of unlawful disparate treatment of workers with caregiving responsibilities

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