In 2007, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance explaining the circumstances under which discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities might constitute discrimination based on sex, disability or other characteristics protected by federal employment discrimination laws.
Currently, many workers juggle both work and caregiving responsibilities. Those responsibilities extend not only to spouses and children, but also to parents, other older family members or relatives with disabilities. While women, particularly women of color, remain disproportionately likely to exercise primary caregiving responsibilities, men have increasingly assumed caretaking duties for children, parents and relatives with disabilities.
Benefits of Flexible Workplace Policies
Employers adopting flexible workplace policies that help employees achieve a satisfactory work-life balance may not only experience decreased complaints of unlawful discrimination, but may also benefit their workers, their customer base and their bottom line. Numerous studies have found that flexible workplace policies enhance employee productivity, reduce absenteeism, reduce costs and appear to positively affect profits. They also aid recruitment and retention efforts, allowing employers to retain a talented, knowledgeable workforce and save the money and time that would otherwise have been spent recruiting, interviewing and training new employees.
The benefits of these programs remain constant regardless of the economic climate, and some employers have implemented workplace flexibility programs as an alternative to workforce reductions. Such programs not only enable employers to “go lean without being mean,” but they also can position organizations to rebound quickly as soon as business improves.
The following are examples of best practices for employers that go beyond federal nondiscrimination requirements and are designed to remove barriers to equal employment opportunity.
General Best Practices
- Be aware of, and train managers about, the legal obligations that may impact decisions about treatment of workers with caregiving responsibilities. Those include federal employment statutes and regulations.
- Develop, disseminate, and enforce a strong EEO policy that clearly addresses the types of conduct that might constitute unlawful discrimination against caregivers based on characteristics protected by federal anti-discrimination laws.
- Ensure that managers at all levels are aware of, and comply with, the organization’s work-life policies. In particular managers, who regularly interact with employees or who are responsible for assignments, leave approval, schedules, promotions and other employment terms, should be familiar with the organization’s work-life policies and supportive of employees who take advantage of available programs.
- Respond to complaints of caregiver discrimination efficiently and effectively. Investigate complaints promptly and thoroughly. Take corrective action and implement corrective and preventive measures as necessary to resolve the situation and prevent problems from arising in the future.
- Protect against retaliation. Provide clear and credible assurances that if employees make complaints or provide information related to complaints about unfair treatment of caregivers, the employer will protect them from retaliation. Ensure that these anti-retaliation measures are enforced.
- Review workplace policies that limit employee flexibility, such as fixed hours work and mandatory overtime, to ensure that they are necessary to business operations.
- Encourage employees to request flexible work arrangements that allow them to balance work and personal responsibilities. Work with employees to create customized flexible work arrangements that meet the specific needs of the employee and employer. Ensure that managers do not discourage employees from requesting flexible work arrangements or penalize employees who make such requests.
This month’s blog post contributor: Broker Briefcase from Zywave, Inc.