EEOC Draws Attention to Legal Protections for "Caregivers," But Further Action Unclear

February 24, 2012

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing on discrimination against "caregivers" under various laws, but, other than enhancing public awareness of those laws, gave little indication of any new regulatory activity.  EEOC Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru, who organized the meeting, said he has been “stunned” during his eight-year tenure by the number of “egregious and blatant cases” of pregnancy discrimination.  Commissioner Chai Feldblum said she was “appalled but not shocked” that employers are still firing or otherwise discriminating against women who are pregnant or have family responsibilities.  To address the issue, she recommended that the agency improve public education, provide clearer guidance to employers, enhance the training of EEOC investigators, and initiate litigation when necessary.  In one potential area of new activity, AARP's Lynn Friss Feinberg said employees caring for older family members or friends is becoming the “new normal” in U.S. workplaces and pointed out that previous EEOC guidance on potential caregiver discrimination mentions only Title VII and the ADA as laws potentially violated.  She urged the EEOC to amend the guidance to add protections against potential violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, citing data that show employees 55 and older who are forced to leave the workforce to care for an older relative may have a very difficult time re-entering the labor force.