What laws prevent discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities?
No federal law expressly prohibits caregiver discrimination. However, several states and localities have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination based on family responsibilities, including the District of Columbia. Several other federal laws could apply, depending on the circumstances. For instance, you may be able to rely on Title VII if an employer treats someone with caregiving responsibilities different from someone of the opposite sex who has caregiving responsibilities or if the employer relies on stereotypes about mothers as caregivers. In addition, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women against discrimination based on their pregnancy, plans to become pregnant, and childbirth. The Family and Medical Leave Act prohibits discrimination or retaliation against employees who take leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child or to take care of a seriously ill family member.
My father has Alzheimer’s, and I am responsible for much of his care. My job is pretty flexible, so I have been leaving early so that I can get home. I then catch up on work after my father is asleep. The other day, my supervisor told me that I would be fired if I left work before 5:00 again. Is my employer required to accommodate me given that my father is disabled?
The short answer to your question is no. The association clause protects those “associated” with someone who is disabled (and clearly your father is) from discrimination. But—and here’s the key for your situation—it does not require employers to provide workplace accommodations so that the employer can meet caregiver responsibilities. That does not mean all is lost for you. If your company fires you for leaving early to care for your father but doesn’t bat an eye when your co-worker leaves early to play golf, then that starts to look an awful lot like discrimination. If you suspect that is what is going on, it might be worth it to raise the issue with HR or ask for an adjusted schedule under the FMLA. It would be illegal for the company to retaliate against you for raising this concern.
My company has 14 employees, so it just misses the 15-employee threshold for federal law to apply. Do I have any legal protection if my boss tries to let me go?
You are right that your employer is not bound by most of the federal anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII, if it has fewer than 15 employees. There are a couple of things to note here. First, the EEOC is expansive in how it gets to 15. It includes any workers who could be considered employees of the company, even part-time employees. For instance, let’s say your company has 14 employees in the office. However, it turns out that the boss employs his sister full time as a bookkeeper but improperly classifies her as a contractor. The EEOC will likely find that the company has the required 15 employees for the purposes of federal employment law. Second, let’s assume your company does really only have 14 employees. It is possible that you have some protection under state law or even a county ordinance. For instance, the D.C. Human Rights Law applies to all companies within the District, regardless of the number of employees. If you are in Arlington, Virginia, you are covered by the Arlington County Human Rights Code, which covers any employer with four or more employees. But sadly, it is possible that you have little protection if your state or county does not have a law covering employers with 14 or fewer employees.
I am applying for a new job. During the interview, the recruiter asked me about my family responsibilities. Is that legal?
It depends. If you live in the District of Columbia, then this is probably illegal. If you live elsewhere, then it will depend on the circumstances. If your employer only asks these questions of female candidates and not males, then the questions are probably sex discrimination. You should speak to an attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.
I am a man. Can I sue for caregiver discrimination?
Yes. Your employer cannot treat you differently simply because you are defying the stereotype of a stay-at-home mom and taking care of your children or family.