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EEOC Issues Guidance on Employment Discrimination Based on Caregiver Responsibilities in New Jersey and Nationwide

Workers have long had to juggle their obligations at work and caregiving responsibilities at home. This includes not only parents, but also people caring for elderly relatives, family members with disabilities, and others. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this issue much more pressing. Some jurisdictions have enacted laws that expressly protect people with caregiving responsibilities from employment discrimination. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), for example, protects parents and others with caregiving responsibilities for a child. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued guidance about caregiver discrimination under federal law. While no federal employment law specifically bars discrimination on the basis of caregiver responsibilities, the EEOC identifies ways that such discrimination might still constitute unlawful discrimination. If you care for someone outside of your duties at work and have concerns that those responsibilities are impacting your status at the workplace, contact a New Jersey employment lawyer to discuss your situation.

The NJLAD prohibits discrimination against employees and job applicants on the basis of “familial status.” It defines this as having a “parent and child relationship” under state law, which includes biological parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and other types of guardians. It also includes people who are pregnant and people who are working to gain legal custody of a minor child. Employers may not refuse to hire someone because of their familial status, nor may they fire them or subject them to other adverse employment actions on that basis.

New York City has one of the most expansive employment discrimination laws in the country. It goes farther than New Jersey law with regard to caregiver discrimination. A “caregiver,” under New York City law, includes a person with an obligation to care for a minor child. It also includes anyone who cares for a close relative or a person living in their household who depends on them “for medical care or to meet the needs of daily living.” The person must be providing “direct and ongoing care.”

The EEOC guidance document, issued on March 14, 2022, addresses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers who are caregivers for “​​children, spouses, partners, older relatives, individuals with disabilities, or other individuals.” It notes potential ways in which caregiver discrimination may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), or other statutes.

Caregiver discrimination, by itself, does not violate federal law, but discrimination against a caregiver could violate federal law in other ways. The EEOC offers examples of discrimination that specifically affects women with caregiving responsibilities. An employer may not refuse to hire a female applicant because of stereotypical assumptions about parenting responsibilities. If an employer makes accommodations for male employees who are taking care of a child or another person, they must make the same or similar accommodations for women. The same goes for disparate treatment based on factors like race, religion, or national origin.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of both disability and an actual or perceived association with someone with a disability. The EEOC notes that an employer might violate the ADA if it refuses to allow an employee to take leave to care for a relative with long COVID, but approves other employees’ requests for leave for other reasons.

If you are involved in a dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York, the skilled and knowledgeable employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group are here to answer your questions and advocate for your rights. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation.

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