Do caregivers need special employment protection?

by Kiley Crossland
Posted 2/06/14, 11:15 am

Legislators in California and New York City are trying to protect employees balancing work with caring for young, disabled, or elderly family members. Supporters of the bills outlawing caregiver discrimination argue employers often cut their hours, shift their schedules, or even fire them because of their family responsibilities. 

But businesses say the laws would be“job-killers” and insist studies show laws passed to protect certain classes of employees may actually discourage employment and increase discrimination because businesses fear frivolous lawsuits.

Federal law currently bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, pregnancy, disability, age, bankruptcy, military service, genetic information, or citizenship status. Some states have passed additional state laws protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. 

The proposed bills in California and New York City would add a new protected class to their employment law: those who care for dependents. California is proposing additional protection for those who provide “medical or supervisory care” to children, spouses, or parents. New York City’s legislation would add “caregiver status” to the list of protected classes in employment discrimination. 

Some advocates for the laws offered testimonies of being passed over or let go because their family responsibilities got in the way of their jobs. At a hearing on the New York City bill, Dena Adams said she lost her job when her hours were switched to a time when she couldn’t put her 11-year-old daughter in daycare. California proponent Derek Tisinger said he was denied a promotion as a firefighter because of inconveniences associated with his sole custody of three children. 

An aging population, more single parents, and more families with two working parents means more employees are trying to balance their jobs with doctor visits, mid-day phone calls, and family emergencies.

California and New York City are not the first to propose laws of this kind. A few other states have passed similar regulations, including Connecticut and the District of Columbia, but many more states have voted down bills seeking to add such protections. 

California’s Chamber of Commerce has opposed this change for several years. They claim it is too vague and would “dramatically increase the amount of frivolous litigation.” Previous New York City administrations opposed the law as bad for job growth. Though supporters argue the law won’t give caregivers a free pass to come in late or leave early, others argue employers might find it easier to avoid possible litigation under the ambiguous law by not hiring caregivers at all. 

“Not everything that’s wrong should be illegal,” writes Timothy P. Carney, a director for the American Enterprise Institute’s Culture of Competition Project and a senior political columnist for The Washington Examiner. Writing about anti-discrimination laws he says, “Sometimes these federal intrusions backfire: Studies have shown that employers are less likely to hire from protected classes, because firing that person is more legally perilous.”

The Associated Press contributed tot his report.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.

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