In 2007, during a nationwide upsurge in pregnancy discrimination claims, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) released a set of guidelines advising employers on issues related to caregiver bias. On April 22, 2009, the EEOC further supplemented those guidelines with specific recommendations designed, it said, to help employers to “reduce the chance of EEO violations against caregivers, and to remove barriers to equal employment opportunity.” The document can be found at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/caregiver-best-practices.html.
The caregiving responsibilities addressed in the EEOC’s recent guidance include not only childcare, but care to parents and older family members, as well as to relatives with disabilities. The primary directives issued include: (1) development and dissemination of a “strong EEO policy” that addresses the types of conduct that may constitute discrimination; (2) training managers to recognize legal obligations created by anti-discrimination statutes and ensuring compliance with policies that support those obligations; (3) effective response to complaints of caregiver discrimination; and (4) providing clear assurance to caregiver/employees of protection from retaliation for such complaints.
The document also addresses issues related to recruitment, hiring, and promotion of employees with caregiving responsibilities, and includes specific suggestions in those areas. For example, the EEOC suggests developing specific job-related qualification standards for each position, to reflect the duties, functions, and competencies of the position. Such standards can help to minimize the potential for gender stereotyping which, in turn, will minimize the opportunity for caregiver discrimination.
Another area addressed in the EEOC’s guidance is avoiding discriminatory treatment of caregivers through the “terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” Specifically, the EEOC suggests monitoring compensation practices for patterns of potential discrimination, and reviewing workplace policies that limit employee flexibility. The “best practices” include a number of flexible and reduced-time options, with examples of each. While not every example will be suitable for every employer, the guidance certainly informs employers of the expectations of the EEOC with respect to caregiver issues. Such information provides a sense of how these cases will be viewed by the Commission during its investigation and attempted resolution of discrimination charges in this area.
Many of the suggestions included in the guidance are similar to or parallel actions that employers currently are reviewing or enforcing to assure compliance with other recent employment law developments, including the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the recent FMLA regulations, and the upcoming Paycheck Fairness Act.
While the EEOC’s technical guidelines are designated as “best practices” – meaning that they are proactive measures recommended by the Commission, and are not statutory requirements – knowledgeable employers recognize that courts turn to the EEOC for direction in interpreting both federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Therefore, it is imperative that companies begin to train managers and supervisors on the content of this most recent guidance, to assure complete awareness of all legal obligations that may have an impact on decisions about treatment of employees with caregiver responsibilities.