When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its "Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities" guidance in April, it was a warning flare: Don't stereotype or discriminate against caregivers in the workplace. It also was a response to a sign of the times. Just a few weeks earlier, in a case reflecting a national trend, the 1st Circuit ruled for a mother who sued her employer, charging the employer failed to offer her a promotion due to her child-care responsibilities.
"The EEOC guidance is a big reminder for employers to make sure they're aware of the pitfalls in [workplace] policies, they're aware of what their obligations are to employees and they're aware of their own rights," says Maria Danaher, a shareholder at Ogletree Deakins.
The new guidance supplements the EEOC's 2007 document, "Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities." The update recommends policies that include allowing employees to use leave to care for ill family members, flexible work arrangements and part-time opportunities with proportional compensation and benefits. It also emphasizes avoiding common stereotypes that may result in unlawful conduct. Those include assuming that female workers' caretaking responsibilities will interfere with their ability to succeed in a fast-paced environment; that female employees who work part time or take advantage of flexible work arrangements are less committed to their jobs than full-time employees; that male workers do not or should not have significant caregiving responsibilities; and that pregnant workers are less reliable than other workers.
The EEOC guidance is not binding under Title VII, but experts agree it's a document that promotes fairness for employers and employees.