<p>COVID-19 put a spotlight on employees’ responsibilities to care for family members, such as babies, children, aging parents or any family member requiring ongoing assistance in meeting their basic needs. However, the closure of schools and other care providers, along with the shift to remote work introduced greater risk of employers treating employees with family responsibilities unfairly, because they may be thought of as less dependable than employees without families. <br /><br />In this episode of <em>All Things Work</em>, host Tony Lee speaks with Cynthia Calvert, an attorney and nationally recognized expert on family responsibilities (or caregiver) discrimination about how HR professionals and people managers can help safeguard against caregiver discrimination in their workplaces. <br /><br />Follow <a href="https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/all-things-work-podcast.aspx"><em>All Things Work</em></a><em> </em>wherever you listen to podcasts; <a href="https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/all-things-work/id1450310325?mt=2">rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts</a>.<br /><br />Music courtesy of <a href="https://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music/track/hip-jazz">bensound</a>.<br /><br />This episode of <em>All Things Work </em>is sponsored by <a href="https://www.ukg.com/">UKG</a>.</p>
COVID-19 put a spotlight on employees’ responsibilities to care for family members, such as babies, children, aging parents or any family member requiring ongoing assistance in meeting their basic needs. However, the closure of schools and other care providers, along with the shift to remote work introduced greater risk of employers treating employees with family responsibilities unfairly, because they may be thought of as less dependable than employees without families.
In this episode of All Things Work, host Tony Lee speaks with Cynthia Calvert, an attorney and nationally recognized expert on family responsibilities (or caregiver) discrimination about how HR professionals and people managers can help safeguard against caregiver discrimination in their workplaces.
Follow All Things Work wherever you listen to podcasts; rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts.
Music courtesy of bensound.
This episode of All Things Work is sponsored by UKG.
This episode of All Things Work is sponsored by UKG. EKG offers HR and workforce management solutions that support your employees and transform your workplace into a work of art.
Welcome to the All Things Work podcast from the Society for Human Resource Management. I'm your host, Tony Lee, head of content here at SHRM. Thank you so much for joining us. All Things Work as an audio adventure, where we talk with thought leaders and taste makers to bring you an insider's perspective on all things work. Now, one way the pandemic has significantly impacted the world of work is a new emphasis on employees personal responsibilities to provide childcare and supervision for members of their family, whether it's children, aging parents, other relatives, basically, any family member who requires regular ongoing assistance.
Now before the pandemic, family care responsibilities were a topic that, typically, wasn't discussed much at work. However, with the closure of schools and other care providers, along with the shift to remote work, it was inevitable that employees with family care responsibilities would face new challenges in meeting the demands of their jobs and the demands of their families. Now, as a result, some people managers started treating employees with family responsibilities, perhaps, as less dependable and more of a liability than other employees who don't have families to care for.
Now, this is known as family responsibilities discrimination, or in short, caregiver discrimination. And it's what we're going to be talking about in today's episode. Joining me is Cynthia Calvert. Cynthia is an attorney specializing in employment law, and a nationally recognized expert on family responsibilities discrimination. She's the founder of Workforce 21C, a consulting group that helps employers manage pregnant employees and employees who care for family members. She's written several books about flexible work and caregiver discrimination, and has led numerous studies about caregiving in the law.
Cynthia, welcome to All Things Work.
Thank you, Tony. It's a pleasure to be here.
Well, it's our pleasure to have you here. Why don't we kind of start from the top, perhaps you could just explain what family responsibilities discrimination is.
Sure. Family responsibilities discrimination is discrimination because an employee cares for a family member. It affects mothers and fathers of young children, but also employees who care for aging parents or for adult family members who have disabilities or serious health conditions. It also affects employees who are pregnant. And there's one important thing to know about FRD, and that is that it's typically caused by bias against caregivers that makes it appear as if they're not the kind of worker that you want to have on your team.
So some common examples are that caregivers are not committed to their jobs, or they're going to be absent a lot. Others are that pregnant workers are lazy, or that men who take care of their children aren't ambitious. And what we see is these biases can affect personnel decisions, such as hiring and compensation and firing. One thing I sometimes tell people is, "If you want to test whether you have these biases, imagine that you have a really important assignment to give to an employee. It has to be done fast. It has to be done well. And your reputation depends on how it turns out. So who are you going to give the assignment to? If you have two employees and they're both capable, are you going to give it to the one who is a mother with young children? Or are you going to give it to the man who doesn't have children?"
And we can extend this and see something else about the biases in our minds too, which is that biases affect men and women differently. Or another way to say it is the biases we have about men and women are different. So if you change the example a little bit, so now the man has children, I'll bet that doesn't actually change your answer about who should get the assignment, because there's a bias that men are free of family responsibilities. That's the default assumption, and it affects the opportunities that they get. It also affects the opportunities that mothers get. And these biases differ by race and ethnicity. They also differ based on sexual orientation and age, and when they affect personnel decisions, that's when we start moving into the employment discrimination area.
Yeah, no, makes perfect sense. So what you're describing, clearly, has been around a while. I mean, this is an issue that workplaces have been struggling with for years. But the pandemic seems to have shined a spotlight on the issue. No? Or is it just because more, especially, working mothers are affected by the pandemic and having to work remotely?
Oh, it absolutely has changed during the pandemic. At the Center for WorkLife Law, which is an advocacy center at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, they run an employee hotline and their hotline has seen an almost 600% increase in the number of calls since the pandemic began. And there's a law firm, Fisher Phillips that's tracking pandemic related employment litigation, and it's reporting hundreds of cases that have been filed during the pandemic. And based on my research, that's a significant increase. That's at least double what I would expect to see in that time period.
And we're seeing a lot of changed circumstances for both employees and for supervisors as a result of the pandemic. We have family now being front and center in a way that they usually aren't. Typically, employees have hidden their families or at least they have downplayed them. And that was in the before times, but now you really can't get away from the visibility of the family. Employees are asking for flexibility, they're asking for extended leave. Kids are making surprise appearances in Zoom meetings. And so supervisors are having to learn a whole new way of dealing with employees and their personal lives. And it's really difficult.
Let me ask you this, I mean, we've published various articles on how perceptions changed through the course of the pandemic. I mean, in the early days of the pandemic, a cat jumps up on someone's lap, a baby is crying in the background, people got upset, because it was not the norm. But as the pandemic lingered, people started to appreciate and maybe even embrace the humanity of fellow employees. I guess your point is not everybody did, right?
Correct. And I really did see a split in the way that supervisors and employers in general responded during the pandemic. On the one hand, we had supervisors who really didn't have the skills to address the situation. And that made things very difficult for them. They tended to be much more punitive when it came to dealing with caregivers. On the other hand, we had some HR practices and some employers that were very proactive, and we saw a lot of creative things coming out of them.
We saw creative benefits. We saw trainings for supervisors, and we saw companies trying to put supports in place, specifically to take care of caregivers. And that's a very smart thing to do, when you think about the number of employees who either are caregivers right now, or who at some point during their career will be caregivers. If employers want a pool of talent, they really have to address the caregiver issue, whether we're in a pandemic or not.
Right. And another topic that we've written extensively on is the pilgrimage of working mothers away from the workplace in the last year, that they found that they simply couldn't manage the family responsibilities and the workload at the same time. And there's a great fear that a lot of these working moms will not be returning to the workplace anytime soon. Now, clearly those are working moms who can afford to leave. There are many, many working moms who can't. Are you seeing any change there, any improvement there? Or is it continuing unabated?
The most recent surveys suggest that it is getting a little bit better now. Mothers are starting to return to the workplace and as the economy picks up and employers need employees, I think we're going to be seeing that more and more. But I think the employers now will be doing it with a different perspective and they will be much more welcoming, perhaps, even much more accommodating. And I think that we will see that employment for mothers, but also for fathers, after the pandemic looks quite different from before the pandemic.
Now another trend that seems to be emerging as companies start to return to the physical workplace are caregivers who are saying, "Well, I've reached a situation where all is good working remotely. I can manage it and I have help and whatever, and I'm not sure I'm ready to return to a physical workplace." Are employers, do you think, going to be more flexible than they were before given that change?
Yes. Very definitely. Again, surveys, recent surveys show that at least half of employers studied are planning to allow employees to continue to work remotely. And it's good on so many different levels, but of course there are some downsides to remote work such as isolation or employees becoming marginalized, because they're not front and center in a supervisor's mind when assignments are being given out or other opportunities.
And so I think what we ultimately will find is a hybrid model that will be more comfortable for the employees, and also for the supervisors, where employees are coming into the office, perhaps, two days a week, and then working remotely the rest of the time. And some studies that we've looked at indicate that that kind of connection, that physical presence in the office is very good for women when it comes to getting promoted, and it's sort of the sweet spot.
Let's talk a minute here about people managers. Many managers are, are promoted into responsibilities for others with very little training, and many are young and have performed well as individual contributors and are rewarded by being made managers. And really don't know what they're doing. So what's your advice there? What role can HR play in helping getting those people managers up to speed and help them reduce the biases that they may have when they walked into the job?
I'm really glad that you asked that, because it's just such an important question, as HR has many key roles to play in this situation. One of the first is to make sure that supervisors are trained, and that's not just in good management techniques, such as how to coach an employee for good performance, but it's also addressing these caregiver biases. When I talk to supervisors, I'm surprised sometimes by how open they are when they say that they think they're doing the right thing by discriminating against caregivers. And that's because they feel that they are pruning the dead wood for the employer, they're getting rid of the least valuable or lowest performing employees.
The problem that's presented, now, in the pandemic is we have a lot of new supervisors coming in, who not only are not trained, but they also are coming in with the set of biases about who is the lowest performer, and the least valuable. They don't know the employees who are in their department. And one of the things we hear from social psychologists is when people don't know each other biases operate most strongly. And so we have supervisors coming in, making assumptions based on categories that they have placed the employees into.
And so when they look at caregivers, if they are making assumptions about their availability and their commitment, things of that sort, it's going to affect their decisions. And we may see that when they're put in that tough spot of having to choose who gets laid off, we may well see that those biases come into play. And caregivers get laid off, even though they have seniority, and even though they have great work records. So the most important thing that HR can do in that situation is training, not just on what is FRD and don't do it, but training the supervisors on why the employer wants to support caregivers.
It's absolutely crucial to have that business case in there. So if HR can explain that there are so many caregivers, we need to keep our caregivers, when the employer retains good employees, it retains people with institutional knowledge, who probably have good relationships with customers or with clients. And it's much less expensive to the employer to retain good employees rather than to have this unwanted attrition. So if HR can get that message to the new supervisors, that's going to go a very long way towards stopping the bias that we see that's driving all of these lawsuits.
There are many other things to do as well though. Looking at policies and making sure that they do not discriminate against caregiving employees, particularly when it comes to leave and flexibility and attendance. One thing I should note is that there is a free model policy on the WorkLife Law website that people can use if they want to adopt an anti-FRD policy. And of course, any time that you do anything with your policies, you want to have some training and some good implementation.
So those are just a couple of the steps that HR can do. There's a lot of very proactive things they could do also, such as being aware of the triggers of FRD. And those triggers usually are someone makes an announcement that they're pregnant or that mom has moved in with them, or they ask for flexibility, or they come back from extended leave. Those are typical triggers for FRD. So if HR can be aware of that and try to head off any problems, that would be terrific.
Yeah, no, that's great advice. Thank you. Let's talk for a minute about employees themselves who are caregivers. It feels like companies are attempting to do more, especially from a benefit standpoint to assist caregivers. I'm sure there's more they can do there too, but can you talk a little bit about some of the benefits you've seen, maybe some of the innovative approaches some companies have taken to try and give caregivers the help they need?
Sure. One of the things I've really enjoyed seeing are the benefits that are tied to helping caregivers provide care if they're working from home or if they're kids' school or daycare is closed. So we've seen virtual summer camp, what a great idea, virtual tutoring, virtual babysitting. So all of that's very creative. We've also seen employers encouraging caregivers to use other existing benefits, such as wellness benefits and mental health benefits. That's been very important during the pandemic.
And then we've seen other supports such as supervisors making sure that they're communicating regularly with caregiving employees who are working from home. And asking all employees, caregiver or not, what it is that they need so that they can be most effective in trying to provide that to them. In the case of a caregiver, it may be making sure that no meetings are scheduled for a particular block of time, so they can have uninterrupted work time to focus, or having fewer meetings or shorter meetings. Maybe just respecting their childcare schedule, and not having meetings when they have said that they're not available. So there are a variety of supports that we are seeing coming out of employers.
That's great. All right. Well, we have time for one more question and it's something you touched on, I just want to follow up on. Before the pandemic, we had acute talent shortages in many companies, in many industries, many functions and companies were willing to consider folks that they may not have considered before, untapped talent,, folks with disabilities, with criminal histories and people who had extensive caregiver relationships.
Do you see that returning as talent shortages return? I mean, recruitment professionals are saying, they're already seeing talent shortages. Do you think that's going to make life a little easier for caregivers, because companies are going to need their talents that much more?
I do think so. And I think that that's going to lead to a bit of a revolution in the workplace. It's always good to treat all employees with respect and making sure that they get what they need so that they can be as effective as possible. But I think right now, because so many employers have had their eyes opened to the stresses and strains of caregiving as a result of the pandemic, we're going to see a more rapid evolution, and we will see more caregivers being hired.
That's great. Great to hear. That's going to do it for today's episode of All Things Work. A big thank you to Cynthia Calvert for joining me to discuss family responsibilities discrimination. And before we get out of here, I want to encourage everyone to follow and subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. And while you're at it, be sure to give us a five star rating and leave a review. Finally, you can find all of our episodes on our website at shrm.org/atwpodcast. Thanks for listening. And we'll catch you next time on All Things Work.
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