EEOC Reminds Employers that Caregiver Duties Remain Despite the Pandemic's Changing Status
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many employees’ work and personal obligations, often creating competing job and caregiving demands.
Abrupt changes in work locations, schedules, or employment status required millions of Americans with caregiving responsibilities for children, spouses, partners, older relatives, individuals with disabilities, or other individuals to adjust to vastly changed circumstances.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released a new 10-page technical guidance document reminding employers that caregiver responsibilities continue regardless of the pandemic’s changing status.
Among other things, the document reminds employers that many schools, daycare centers, and employers may still close with little notice or continue to operate on hybrid schedules. These conditions place burdens on those with caregiving responsibilities.
Although federal employment discrimination laws do not prohibit employment discrimination based entirely on caregiver status, presumptions about caregiver status may result in employment discrimination that impacts employees in protected classes (such as women who may be assumed to be the primary child or elder caregiver). Therefore, the EEOC offers reminders that apply to a pandemic-era workplace:
- Reasonable requests for flexibility due to caregiving should be considered fairly and accommodations applied consistently.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects those with disabilities and those who are associated with disabled individuals. Employers who grant unpaid leave for personal reasons should also consider requests for unpaid leave to care for associated individuals with COVID-19 if it constitutes a disability.
- The EEOC reminds employers not to dismiss reasonable requests made by men or LGBTQ1+ individual employees under the false assumption that caregiving duties are female or heterosexual responsibilities.
- Age stereotyping, such as assuming older workers need fewer hours to care for a disabled spouse or because he or she lacks the energy to provide caregiving duties while working, should also be avoided.
- Employers should avoid imposing work-from-home or physical distancing requirements to isolate pregnant employees. However, if the employee requests reasonable accommodations (job modification, alternative assignment, leave of absence, etc.), arrangements must be considered for pregnant workers who are temporarily unable to perform their duties.
- Employers must protect all workers from every form of harassment, including harassment due to pandemic-related caregiving, even in fully virtual or hybrid work environments.
Additional information about caregiver discrimination is available in the EEOC’s caregiver discrimination policy guidance, associated fact sheet, and employer best practices document. To learn more about the application of the laws enforced by the EEOC with regards to COVID-19, please visit EEOC’s COVID-19 What You Should Know document.
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