Back to School and Back to Helping Employees Balance Work and Family Responsibilities

September_-_back_to_work_-_back_to_school_-_back_to_BOOKS_LCCN98509757While employers need to maintain a productive and efficient team of hardworking employees, it also is important for organizations to be sensitive to the needs of working parents. That can be especially true at this time of year, with the stores filling up with pencils, notebooks and backpacks as many parents gear up to send their children back to school.

With those challenges in mind, here are five quick tips for employers seeking to manage employees with family responsibilities:

1. Avoid family responsibility discrimination. Family responsibility discrimination or caregiver discrimination occurs when employers treat employees or job applicants differently because of their caretaking responsibilities for young children, elderly parents, partners or spouses.

Examples of family responsibility discrimination include:

• Failing to promote an employee because the employer believes the employee is more committed to their family than their job; or
• Denying female employees with young children the same opportunities as male employees with young children.

On the federal level, family responsibility discrimination may be actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (as a form of sex discrimination), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Similarly, a handful of states and municipalities have enacted laws prohibiting caregiver discrimination.

2. Remember it is not just working mothers. In today’s workplace, employers should be open-minded and realize that it is not just mothers who have caregiving and family responsibilities, but also fathers as well as grandparents.

Also, with a greater number of states recognizing same-sex marriage in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, employers should be flexible and willing to accept and understand non-traditional families.

3. Be aware of state leave laws. Employers need to be aware that a number of states have laws which entitle employees to time off to attend school conferences and activities. For example, in Louisiana, an employee may receive up to 16 hours of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to attend school conferences and activities if those activities cannot be rescheduled outside of work; the employee provides reasonable notice prior to the leave; and makes a reasonable effort to schedule the leave so as not to unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.

In Illinois, a public or private employer with at least 50 employees must provide at least eight hours per year of unpaid leave for qualified employees to visit a child’s school conference or classroom activity if the conference or activity cannot be scheduled outside of work hours.

4. Incorporate caregivers into workplace policies. Employers should make sure to develop, implement and enforce policies related to caregivers and employees with school- age children. For example, an employer may want to include a policy related to time off for school visitation and activities in its employee handbook or reference time off for school activities as one of the uses of paid time off (PTO). An employer may also want to have its discrimination, harassment and retaliation policies specifically prohibit family responsibility discrimination.

5. Train supervisors to communicate with caregivers. Finally, it is critical to train supervisors and managers to communicate effectively with caregivers and respond to requests for accommodations. Supervisors and managers should be open, honest and solution-oriented and try to accommodate reasonable requests for leave, time-off, or altered schedules based on an employee’s family responsibilities so long as the employee is still able to be productive and fulfill his or her work-related duties and responsibilities.

Employers and supervisors may want to consider permitting employees to partake in a job share or telecommute if it helps employees manage work and family obligations. In addition, supervisors should be trained to avoid discriminating and retaliating against caregivers and refrain from negatively stereotyping employees with family responsibilities.

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