Male Caregivers Suffer Discrimination in the Workplace


Son assisting elderly mother

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The growing number of men taking on family caregiver roles is a sign of the times. But when old-fashioned employers fail to keep up with changing gender expectations, it can mean trouble for male employees who need time to care for their children, spouses or parents.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reported a steady increase in charges of caregiver discrimination over the last five years. And though the report does not distinguish between complaints from male and female workers, it notes a pattern of male caregivers complaining of gender discrimination.

“Employers are often more relaxed in applying blatant sexual discrimination against male caregivers,” EEOC attorney Elizabeth Grossman told Fortune. “When invoking parental leave, some supervisors might say ‘Oh no, that’s for women.’ There are some pretty entrenched stereotypes.”

 

Federal Protection for Caregivers

Most U.S. workers are guaranteed unpaid, job-protected leave under the gender-neutral Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA says eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, or to care for a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition. Employees should notify their employers of their need to take FMLA leave at least 30 days in advance whenever possible, and they may need to provide documentation to prove that their leave is covered.

Not every employer is bound by the FMLA, however. All public agencies are covered, as well as all public and private K-12 schools. But other private sector employers are only covered if they’ve employed 50 or more workers for at least 20 weeks.

And even when the employer is covered, employees aren’t eligible for FMLA leave unless they’ve been employed for 12 months and have logged 1,250 hours of service in the last year. They must also work at a location where at least 50 employees work within a 75-mile radius.

Because these parameters leave a substantial number of private sector workers unprotected, Washington, D.C., and a handful of states — Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — have established their own FMLAs to cover more employees. In Maine, private employers with 15 or more workers must guarantee caregiver leave. In Washington, parental leave is specifically guaranteed regardless of the employer’s size.

If you believe that you’ve been a victim of gender discrimination regarding a request for caregiver leave, you can file a discrimination claim with the EEOC.

 

Leave Doesn’t Have to be Protected

Men who need to take caregiver leave but aren’t covered by the FMLA may be surprised to learn that their employer has a voluntary system in place to deal with those requests. But because those benefits aren’t guaranteed under the law, employees should be thorough and specific when negotiating terms with their bosses.

Donna M. Ballman

“The first thing employees should do if they need paternity leave is review the employee handbook,” said Florida employment law attorney Donna M. Ballman. “If they are not qualified for FMLA leave, the company may well have other policies on maternity or paternity leave. However, the company does not have to guarantee their position if they take an unprotected leave. I’d suggest to employees that, if you’re taking an unprotected leave, make sure you follow the policies to the letter and get everything in writing.”

Phillip R. Maltin

Phillip R. Maltin, a partner in the employment law department of Gordon & Rees, says that employers who regard caregiver leave as a burden may do well to see it as an opportunity to attract better job candidates.

“It’s really not that hard for an employer to satisfy a worker’s request for time off to give care to a family member,” said Maltin. “I understand that it’s frustrating, that it can become problematic from a bookkeeping perspective, but I tell my clients that you’ve got to flip that switch and change your worldview. When you work with your employees to address their needs, it creates a good work environment, and word gets out.”

Have you had to battle gender discrimination while requesting caregiver leave from your employer? If so, let us know, or just share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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