Yet another reason why employers shouldn’t stereotype . . .
Employees who balance the demands of caring for a family with the pressures of paid work have always had a difficult time. Now, those employees may be receiving a little help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On May 23, 2007, the EEOC issued new and extensive enforcement guidelines regarding employers’ treatment of their “caregiving” employees. Specifically, the guidelines address the growing problem of employees who have family responsibilities, and/or who must care for a family member, being subjected to disparate treatment. As a preamble, the guidelines state:
Although the federal EEO laws do not prohibit discrimination against caregivers per se, there are circumstances in which discrimination against caregivers might constitute unlawful disparate treatment. The purpose of this document is to assist investigators, employees, and employers in assessing whether a particular employment decision affecting a caregiver might unlawfully discriminate on the basis of prohibited characteristics under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
At its most relevant, the guidelines state that employers who perceive an employee with caregiving responsibilities as unable to perform the same amount of work, or the same caliber of work, as its other employees may violate federal anti-discrimination laws. This perception, or stereotype, on the part of the employer means family caregivers are provided with less career options and less chances for career advancement than other employees. The guidelines state:
Individuals with caregiving responsibilities also may encounter the maternal wall through employer stereotyping. Writing for the Supreme Court in 2003, Chief Justice Rehnquist noted that “the faultline between work and family [is] precisely where sex-based overgeneralization has been and remains strongest.” Sex-based stereotyping about caregiving responsibilities is not limited to childcare and includes other forms of caregiving, such as care of a sick parent or spouse. Thus, women with caregiving responsibilities may be perceived as more committed to caregiving than to their jobs and as less competent than other workers, regardless of how their caregiving responsibilities actually impact their work. Male caregivers may face the mirror image stereotype: that men are poorly suited to caregiving. As a result, men may be denied parental leave or other benefits routinely afforded their female counterparts. . . Employment decisions based on such stereotypes violate the federal antidiscrimination statutes, even when an employer acts upon such stereotypes unconsciously or reflexively. As the Supreme Court has explained, “[W]e are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they match the stereotype associated with their group.” Thus, for example, employment decisions based on stereotypes about working mothers are unlawful because “the antidiscrimination laws entitle individuals to be evaluated as individuals rather than as members of groups having certain average characteristics.”
Given these guidelines, employers must be all the more vigilant and refrain from making employment decisions based upon stereotypes of the employee’s family responsibilities.