EEOC Enforcement Guidance
The EEOC recently took proactive steps to address what it views as an emerging discrimination issue in the workplace. Last week, the agency released an Enforcement Guidance focusing specifically on discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities. Going forward, this indicates an area of increasing attention for the agency.
While federal law does not specifically bar discrimination against caregivers, the Guidance spells out how existing laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender, pregnancy and disability also apply broadly to employees who are caregivers. The Guidance, available online at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/caregiving.html does not, however, create a new protected category in the workplace. Rather, it illustrates how stereotyping or other forms of disparate treatment violate Title VII or the prohibition under the ADA against discrimination based on a worker's association with an individual with a disability.
The new Guidance highlights a wide range of scenarios in which federal anti-discrimination laws apply, including:
- Sex based stereotyping, such as assigning a woman to a less desirable position based on the assumption that as a mother, she will be less committed to her job.
- Lowering subjective evaluations of an employee’s work performance after becoming a primary caregiver, despite the absence of an actual decline in performance.
- Treating men and women differently as to childcare leave requests due to gender-based stereotypes.
- “Benevolent” stereotyping such as reducing the workload for an employee who is the primary caregiver for an elderly parent on the assumption that the employee does not want to work extra hours.
- Refusing to hire a worker who is a parent of a child with a disability based on the belief that the worker will be unreliable.
With the release of this Enforcement Guidance, the EEOC is certain to place more emphasis on cases involving caregivers. Employers should be certain that their policies and practices do not run afoul in this area. If you have questions relating to this advisory, please feel free to contact any attorney in the Labor and Employment Department at Frost Brown Todd.