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Is discrimination against family caregivers legal?

There's a type of employment discrimination that goes by a couple of different names -- sometimes it's called Family Responsibilities Discrimination. Other times it's called, more simply, "caregiver discrimination."

It's the discrimination that anyone who is in the role of a caregiver may find themselves facing -- suddenly, the boss is making comments about how you're letting your family get in the way of your career or how they need someone more "career minded" at the helm of a particular project -- and you realize that your obligations as a caregiver for your young children, sick spouse, elderly parents or another relative have suddenly put you on a fast track to nowhere with your job.

Is it legal? Not exactly -- but it isn't expressly illegal on a federal level, either, which makes it more difficult to fight. There are some local laws that fight back against this type of discrimination, but they're spotty.

This often forces litigants to take a hard look at exactly how the discrimination plays out, to see if it falls under one of the "protected" categories that does make it illegal.

For example, many discrimination claims based on someone's status as a caregiver can be pressed based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if women with young children are treated differently than men with young children. For example, if a male coworker announces his impending fatherhood or has a child and it doesn't affect the upward trajectory of his career, but you announce your pregnancy and the boss reacts as if you've committed a major error, that sort of discrimination can be handled under Title VII as sexual discrimination.

Caregiver discrimination can also be handled under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is often used by caregivers to take time off work to care for an ill spouse or another close relative.

In order to help your attorney fight this sort of workplace discrimination, which can often be subtle in form, it helps to document everything carefully -- from the first hint that you get that your employer is unhappy with your devotion to your family over your job onward. Keep a journal and document each instance, so that your attorney can use it to help recreate a pattern of discrimination and to identify which laws might help you.

Source: Work Life Law, "Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD)," accessed April 11, 2017

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