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EEOC Issues Guidance on Working Caregivers 
 

5/25/2007  By Kathy Gurchiek 
 
 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a document that guides employers on how the agency’s laws apply to workers with caregiving responsibilities.

At a meeting in Washington, D.C., on May 23, 2007, commissioners announced that the guidance is effective immediately, but it does not make caregivers a protected group under the law. It does address an emerging discrimination issue, commissioners took pains to note.

The document appears to be an outgrowth from a panel of experts testifying before the EEOC on April 19 about the legal issues associated with workers struggling to find a work/life balance with their employers.

The intent of the document, according to the EEOC, is to help employers, employees and commission staff determine whether discrimination against persons with caregiving responsibilities constitutes unlawful disparate treatment under federal equal employment opportunity law.

It explains and helps illustrate when Title VII applies to work/family conflicts; explains when it applies to discrimination against other caregivers, including fathers and women of color; and clarifies that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against workers because they have caregiving responsibilities, commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru said.

The EEOC issued its guidance as it convened a panel of experts, including a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) member, who testified on “Achieving Work/Family Balance: Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities.”

“Disparate treatment based on hostility toward workers who assume caregiving responsibilities is not limited to women, and also impacts men, who face different but equally harmful sex-based stereotypes,” panelist Ernest Haffner, senior attorney advisor for the EEOC Office of Legal Counsel, told commissioners.

Employers can avoid disparate treatment by keeping in mind that work/life balance strategies can benefit all employees, not just those with children, a number of panelists noted.

While caregiving responsibilities typically fall to women, they can fall to any worker any time, including people who are part of the “sandwich” generation who find themselves caring for young children and aging relatives, testified SHRM member Cornelia Gamlem, SPHR.

She served on SHRM’s Board of Directors in 2000 and 2001, chaired the Workplace Diversity Committee from 1997 to 1999, and served on the Society’s 2004 Workplace Diversity Panel. She is president of GEMS Group ltd., a management consulting firm offering HR solutions.

“What we all have to keep in mind is we can all become caregivers even if we don’t have children,” she said. “Their own personal situation can change over time.”

A large part of changing the work culture and stigma of adjusting a work schedule to address caregiving duties “has to do with educating our employers” and “sensitizing the managers,” said Gamlem.

That can be done by asking employees for their input on work/life programs the organization is considering, conducting employee attitude surveys and letting employees know about the organization’s work/life policies.

“There’s a lot [employers] can do that isn’t impacting the business side” and that will drive worker retention. Citing SHRM’s 2006 Benefits Survey Report, she said those actions include offering:

  • Nontraditional scheduling options, including job sharing, telecommuting and compressed workweeks.
  • Child care benefits, including child care referral services, and allowing employees to bring their children to work in an emergency.
  • Elder care referral service and emergency elder care.
  • Lactation programs, adoption assistance and foster care.
  • Concierge services such as prepared meals or a subsidized cafeteria; prepared take-home meals; or dry cleaning services.
  • A “nannies on call” program, which one law firm implemented.

Some of these services would be particularly beneficial to employees required to work long days, Gamlem pointed out. Some are designed to save employees the time and energy of handling non-work tasks, such as going to the post office, even if they don’t have caregiving duties.

Shift work can provide challenges when it comes to child care, she acknowledged, but she noted that some small companies are forming consortiums around such issues and pulling together referral sources for employees.

SHRM underscores the importance of training HR professionals on work/life policies and going beyond compliance training, she said, to include “dimensions of diversity beyond mandated protections.”

It provides toolkits, policies and other resources to members; each year it recognizes organizations that have implemented successful programs with its “50 Best Small and Medium Places to Work” awards, she pointed out.

“The 2006 results noted several family-friendly policies, including providing new mothers, including adoptive mothers, with six weeks of paid leave and $800 for nursing and cleaning services; offering unlimited bereavement leave; and extending ‘Take Your Child to Work’ programs to a week.”

A fact sheet on the new EEOC guidance documents can be found at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_caregiving.html

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org


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