In the best of times, those who care for a family member while also working can face difficulties balancing work and caregiving duties, and the service disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have made things substantially more challenging. New legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against a worker because of their caregiving responsibilities.
“The support and services family caregivers provide their loved ones are critical in maintaining their well-being,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who introduced the bill, in a news release. “Most family caregivers are employed and work to balance the responsibilities of their job while also providing that care. It is unacceptable that workers are being discriminated against simply because they have responsibilities outside of the workplace.”
The “Protecting Family Caregivers from Discrimination Act” aims to safeguard people who may need to change their work situations — such as shift their work hours or take time off — in order to care for family members with disabilities. The bill would protect spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings and others who care for a relative of any age with special needs.
Employers would no longer be permitted to refuse to hire, to fire, or to take any other “adverse action” against people based on their caregiver status, with “respect to the individual's compensation, terms, conditions, scheduling, or privileges of employment.”
The bill would empower individuals to file discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency already tasked with overseeing most other federal employment law, as well as authorize the agency to conduct independent investigations. Individuals would also have an independent right to file federal lawsuits against employers, separate from the EEOC.
The legislation would bar employers from retaliating against employees seeking to exercise their rights under the legislation. A presumption of retaliation would exist if the employer takes any adverse action against the employee within two years of when the employee sought to exercise his or her rights.
The EEOC would be instructed to set up a separate Family Caregiver Administration Fund, which would provide grants for programs to assist with anti-discrimination efforts for caregivers, such as trainings, outreach, and other support services.
A number of states and municipalities have already enacted their own anti-discrimination measures to protect caregivers. New York City, for example, expressly includes family caregivers as a protected under its human rights law. Some states, such as New York State, Connecticut and Minnesota have broad anti-discrimination protections based on familial status, which could be interpreted to include discrimination based on caregiver status.
“Children with disabilities have lost services usually provided by schools and many adults with disabilities are suddenly without their usual routines and support professionals. COVID-19 has left all caregivers struggling to balance work and being there for their loved ones,” Bethany Lilly, director of income policy at The Arc, told Disability Scoop. “It is incredibly important that caregivers be protected now and as we reopen.”
Click here to read the full bill.