It’s the law. Companies may not discriminate against their employees who are members of protected classes. Most HR staff and compliance officers can rattle off the list of protected classes (race, religion, gender, orientation, age, disability, etc.) in short order. Yet, many remain unaware of an emerging type of discrimination – family responsibilities discrimination (FRD). While caregivers are not yet considered a protected class under federal law, FRD still needs to be taken seriously within your organization.
FRD is discrimination against employees because of actual or perceived caregiving obligations. It is one of “the biggest challenges employers never see coming,” according to a recent report from the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Given how many employees in the workforce have family responsibilities on top of their full- or part-time job, it’s no surprise that FRD is becoming a major issue. WorkLife Law noted that the number of FRD cases filed has risen by 269 percent over the past decade, and includes complaints of discrimination based on pregnancy, parenthood, and care for family members who are sick, disabled, and/or aging.
According to WorkLife Law, among the FRD issues trending now are:
- Eldercare, a “new frontier” in litigation, saw a 650 percent increase in filed lawsuits over the past decade. With people living longer than ever before, eldercare litigation will only continue to increase.
- Pregnancy and lactation accommodation cases rose by 315 and 800 percent, respectively. These types of cases involve women who want to continue working during their pregnancies or are working moms who breastfeed and need workplace accommodations. Cases involving pregnancy are the most common type of FRD claim (67 percent) while lactation cases represent a fraction of all FRD cases filed.
- The number of men serving as caregivers is growing. Male employees have brought 55 percent of spousal care cases, 39 percent of eldercare cases, 38 percent of FMLA cases and 28 percent of childcare cases. Paternity leave cases have increased 336 percent.
Considering that most FRD rulings favor employees, FRD lawsuits can be costly for employers. In fact, employees win 67 percent of the FRD cases that go to trial and prevail in half of all FRD cases filed, according to WorkLife Law. From 2006 to 2015, employees in FRD cases were awarded nearly $500 million in verdicts and settlements—more than double of what was awarded the decade before—and this estimate is low, as it fails to include confidential settlements.
The monetary cost is only part of the damage that can be caused by FRD. This type of discrimination costs companies good employees, damages morale, impacts productivity and harms reputations. Companies who incorporate pro-caregiving policies into their hiring and HR practices can help prevent potential FRD problems. What does that look like? At the top of the list are training for supervisors, tools to recognize discrimination, effective complaint procedures, and flexible work programs and work coverage plans.
Has your company explored ways to address FRD? If so, we’d like to hear about it. Share your stories in our comment section below.