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Workplace Discrimination for Caregivers: A Reality


images (3)Discrimination against caregivers is still a reality in the American workplace, reports Melanie Trottman in a story in today’s Wall Street Journal.At an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C., employment and legal experts said that pregnant women and caregivers face everything from harassment and hostility on the job to terminations and decreased work hours. That’s despite a law passed 30 years ago – the Pregnancy Discrimination Act – and other measures like the Family and Medical Leave Act intended to protect workers balancing job and family obligations.

One example shared by an expert panelist at the hearing: A pregnant woman was told she couldn’t alter her uniform to fit her growing belly, but then was forced to take a leave when the uniform no longer fit. There were also tales of men who were punished for asking for time off to take care of sick or elderly relatives, because such labor was considered “women’s work.”

Sadly, stereotypes about who should provide care appear to be alive and well despite the fact that women have increasing responsibilities in the workplace and men are taking larger roles in the domestic sphere.

Low-skilled, low-wage workers are especially vulnerable since jobs like waiting tables, retail sales and other service positions often have unpredictable but inflexible schedules. That makes it harder to plan time off or deal with the kinds of small and large crises – a sudden ear infection, a fall that results in a broken hip – that crop up when you’re caring for a baby or an elderly parent.

Another panelist, professor Stephen Benard of Indiana University, described a “motherhood wage penalty,” where mothers earn as much as 5% less than men for every child they have. Prof. Benard suggested that employers might unconsciously believe mothers are less capable of good work than non-mothers.  It is possible that “the gender gap in wages may be primarily a motherhood gap,” he said.

Readers, have you ever been treated unfairly at work because you were pregnant or had other family responsibilities? Is your employer understanding or accommodating when you need to care for a child or a sick or elderly relative?

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