While many companies have come to promote work-life balance policies — making best attempts to provide for employees who have family responsibilities, either with children, an ill spouse or elder care for aging parents — there still remains some degree of discrimination against employees who are in these challenging situations.
What happens, in effect, in discriminatory workplaces is that there is a failure to promote some individuals, even when those employees are qualified to rise to higher levels of authority and compensation. Unfortunately, there is no law expressly forbidding family responsibility discrimination (FRD) in California, even though there are such statutes in almost half the other states. However, it remains illegal under the California Labor Code to treat employees differently, which can include all individuals who are characterized by one or several types of family situations that may be an excuse to stall their careers. Those situations can include:
Hostile work environment – This may occur when an employer makes it difficult for an employee, such as a woman who is pregnant, to continue working there because of negative comments regarding maternity leave and childcare.
Disparate treatment – This is when all employees who have family responsibilities are precluded from career advancements (a failure to promote) that are given to individuals who have no such outside responsibilities. Typically, this affects women of childbearing age.
Disparate impact – When an employment policy makes it likely that the individual who needs time away for family is unlikely to see career advancement. For example, this occurs when taking a maternity leave is counted against an employee’s seniority, which consequently diminishes the benefits of that person’s seniority with that employer.
Smarter employers look instead at performance on the job on an objective basis rather than considering external factors. Failing to promote qualified workers — including those who bring diverse life experiences to the job — hurts many people as well as the company.