From Assumptions to Equality: Challenging Bias Against Family Caregivers

Jacqueline Crispino

Nearly every worker will have to care for a family member at some point in their career. These caregiving responsibilities extend not only to children, but also to parents and other older family members, relatives with disabilities, and family members with a serious illness. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, roughly 60 percent of two-parent households with children under age 18 have both parents working. Moreover, more than 1 in 6 Americans working full-time or part-time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend and over 1 in 12 employed adults are caring for both children and elderly or disabled adults.

Family caregivers, particularly mothers, often face discrimination at work because of assumptions about how caregivers will act (such as mothers will prioritize their families over work) or how they should act (such as fathers should not take time off from work to care for their children). Most commonly, employers assume caregivers will not be committed to their jobs, and therefore are not as valuable. These assumptions can affect personnel decisions, including who gets hired, promoted, or laid off. One study found that mothers were 79% less likely to be recommended for hire, half as likely to be promoted, and offered an average of $11,000 less in salary for the same position as similarly qualified non-mothers. Mothers are also often chosen first for layoffs.

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the pressures faced by family caregivers, particularly women. A striking 80% of workers who dropped out of the workforce were women and women were twice as likely to say they left work due to caregiving responsibilities related to childcare. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critically important that we address and remove discriminatory barriers facing workers who have reentered the job market.

To address family caregiver discrimination, Equal Rights Advocates, along with the California Employment Lawyers Association, Legal Aid at Work, and the California Work and Family Coalition, are co-sponsors of California Assembly Bill 524. This measure, authored by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, would prohibit the disparate treatment of employees because of their family caregiver status under our state anti-discrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Already, four states (Alaska, Delaware, Minnesota, and New York) and over 200 local jurisdictions across the US have enacted laws that prohibit employment discrimination against parents and other caregivers. As a result, Nearly one-third of the American workforce is already covered by a caregiver anti-discrimination law.

Not only do these laws provide critical protections to workers, but they also provide important clarity for employers. Research conducted by the Center for Worklife Law on the impact of caregiver anti-discrimination laws on litigation rates and complaints filed with civil rights enforcement agencies found that where these laws exist, the rate of legal claims either remained the same or went down. In jurisdictions without explicit protections, workers rely on a patchwork of existing anti-discrimination protections to address caregiver discrimination. Explicitly labeling family caregivers as a protected class ensures employers evaluate employees based on their job performance, rather than their caregiving status, which has the power to save jobs and avoid lawsuits. Furthermore, ensuring equal opportunity for family caregivers promotes economic security and improves the mental health of family caregivers.

It is time for California to join the growing number of states and local jurisdictions that have recognized the importance of protecting family caregivers. As we continue to rebuild coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must move toward an economy that works for all. It is time to respect the labor and needs of caregivers and pass AB 524.

Take action and email your representatives to support AB 524 by clicking below!

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