The AARP Public Policy Institute recently released a paper on workplace discrimination against workers who have to care for an elderly relative. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, this will become an increasingly important issue.
While there are a patchwork of federal, state, and local laws that, in some circumstances, protect workers who have to care for an elderly relative, there is no federal law that expressly prohibits such discrimination. So, for instance, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may protect an employee who must come into work a little late some days in order to care for an elderly parent but not all employees are eligible for FMLA leave. Similarly, as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has asserted, an employer may not discriminate against a female job applicant who has an older parent living with her because it assumes, since she is a woman, she will have to take time away from work to care for that parent. Proving that an employer made such an assumption, however, can be quite challenging.
The AARP Public Policy Institute’s paper advocates for new laws that would expressly protect employees from discrimination based on their family care giving responsibilities. These new laws would require employers to treat employees with family care giving responsibilities no less favorably than employees without family care giving responsibilities. To illustrate, the paper explains that under such a law “an employer who readily allows students’ work schedules to be shaped around their class schedules could not refuse to show similar flexibility for an employee caring for an older adult.”
If your employer is requiring you to choose between your job and your responsibility to care for an elderly relative, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to discuss what your legal rights may be.