Don’t Get Blindsided by Family-Leave Laws

Ever wonder what a typical case of family-responsibility discrimination involving elder care might look like? Consider this 538047854 -- elder carescenario laid out in a piece by Tom Spiggle that posted on the Huffington Post in June:

“You have an elderly parent who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He requires continuous care. You have worked at the same job for five years with a strong, positive work history. To better care for your father, you move him out of assisted living into your house. A paid caregiver takes care of him during the day, but leaves at 6, which means that you have to be home then.

“Your performance at work remains strong, but you are no longer able to take part in the informal after-work get-together frequently arranged by your boss. After missing these for a month, your boss stops by your office to ask why. You tell him. He responds ‘How long will this go on?’ You tell him maybe years. After this, things change at work. For no apparent reason, your boss begins to criticize your work. At one point, HR puts you on a performance-improvement plan.

“Although you do everything they ask and more, nothing seems good enough. One day, your father falls at your house, breaking an arm. You have to leave work early to get to the hospital and miss work the next day. You call HR, letting them know what happened and put in for [Family and Medical Leave Act] leave to cover the absence. When you return, the axe falls; you get fired. The last communication you receive from your boss is an email: ‘I’m sorry it had to end like this. You will be missed. I hope that this gives you the time that you need with your father.’

“That would be discrimination under the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Granted, his piece speaks primarily to employees, but there are some nuggets worth reviewing for employers, such as a little-known fact (little known by me anyway) that some bosses seem fine and accommodating with the first child, “but their attitude is that one child should have been enough,” writes Spiggle, an employment lawyer and founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, based in Arlington, Va.

(Note to anyone reading this who considers this a familiar occurrence in his or her organization: Time for some manager training!)

Here’s another nugget: Employees claiming they were discriminated against or weren’t accommodated under family-leave law have much stronger cases if they ask for the law’s protection while they’re still working for you. Spiggle elaborates (remember, this is directed at employees, so interpret between the lines):

“Let me give you an example. Suppose that your boss says that you are a shoo-in for a promotion. Before things become official, you announce your pregnancy. Next thing you know, the promotion goes to a man who is your junior. When you confront your boss, she shrugs and says, ‘Them’s the breaks. Next round.’ Let’s suppose things only go downhill from there and you get fired, even though your performance remained unchanged.

“Here’s the thing: If you had complained about being skipped over for the promotion because you were pregnant before you were fired, you’d have a second claim of retaliation, which is easier to prove and gives you more leverage.

“There’s also a chance that, by reporting your concerns, you might get the problem fixed. Sometimes companies do the right thing when they learn that a rogue manager is violating the law. By reporting what happened, you give the company a chance to fix it.”

Probably the most telling piece of information he shares though — as does Mark McGraw in this HRE Daily post from May — is the fact that the number of family-responsibility-discrimination cases are going way up. McGraw and Spiggle both cite a report, Caregivers in the Workplace: Family Responsibilities Discrimination Litigation Update 2016, showing a 269-percent increase in the number of family-responsibility-discrimination cases between 2006 and 2015.

Many of our HREOnline.com news analyses have also mentioned this increase and the fact that far too many employers still don’t seem to get it when it comes to proactively turning that trend around.

Consider this a reminder, then, to get your anti-family-caregiver-discrimination house in order. And make sure you’re up on the nuances involved, including who has what rights and when — and precisely what this form of discrimination looks like.