While there is no single federal law that prohibits family responsibilities discrimination, several federal laws and numerous state and local laws forbid employers from treating workers differently because they have caregiving obligations.  This legal patchwork makes it difficult for employers to understand and comply with the law.  Here are some key laws to know:

  • Most FRD cases involve pregnancy claims, including claims related to pregnancy accommodations, recent maternity leave, pregnancy complications, and plans to have children.  The federal law that prohibits pregnancy discrimination applies to employers that have 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that apply to smaller employers.
  • Many FRD cases involve leave to care for sick family members, taken either in one continuous block or in smaller segments on an intermittent basis.  Claims arise when employees believe they have been denied leave to which they are entitled, or they have been retaliated against for taking leave.  The key federal statute involved in these cases is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which applies to employers of 50 or more employees and covers employees who have worked for the employer for a year and for 1250 hours in the prior year.  Many states have leave laws as well, some of which apply to smaller employers.  The federal and state laws are complicated, and it is easy to make mistakes.
  • A large number of FRD cases involve sex discrimination claims under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, also known as “Title VII.”  These types of claims usually involve sex-based assumptions, such as women shouldn’t get training opportunities because they just have children and quit or men who are actively involved in childcare are not dependable, or sex-based differential treatment such as promoting men with children but not women with children.  Title VII applies to employers of 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that apply to smaller employers.
  • A smaller number of FRD cases involve “disability association” claims, such as women not being promoted because they have children with disabilities or men not being hired because they have a spouse with a disability who will need care and incur high medical bills.  The federal Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on association with a person with disabilities, and applies to employers of 15 or more employees.
  • In addition to these statutes, common law claims such as wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations, and promissory estoppel can be brought by employees who believe they have been discriminated against because of their caregiving responsibilities.

Employers need to make sure their human resources and legal professionals understand how these laws apply to family caregivers and can train and advise managers and supervisors.  Legal missteps can cost hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of dollars, and can disrupt business and damage reputations.

Next: FRD in the Workplace