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Discrimination, leave laws fail to protect all California workers

Federal and California medical leave laws and anti-discrimination laws benefit many employees who need to take time off of work because of an illness or to care for an immediate family member. But these laws can also prove to be not enough for workers in other situations.

For example, not all workers are protected under medical leave laws, and they could be at risk of losing their jobs when they are faced with challenges including taking care of an ill spouse, aging parents or raising young children.

When employees are protected under leave laws, they cannot be discriminated against in the workplace or wrongfully terminated from a job when they need to take advantage of their protections to care for ill family members or themselves. In California, many workers are protected by the following laws: the Family and Medical Leave Act, the California Family Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

However, some of these laws only apply to half of all workers in the job market. For example, workers need to work at a company that employs more than 50 people to be protected under FMLA laws. Some laws also do not cover employees who need to help care for an ill in-law or sibling.

The question some employee rights advocates have raised is whether states should begin to establish laws specifically to protect family responsibility discrimination or caregiver discrimination. As employees from the baby boomer generation are reaching an older age, their caretakers could be at risk of losing their jobs or discrimination if employers fail to accommodate workers who do have obligations to care for aging or ill family members.

The Center for WorkLife Law said that in 2008 there were more than 2,000 cases claiming family responsibility discrimination, and the numbers have been increasing every year. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that it is aware of this problem in workplaces. The EEOC says that workers should be able to care for family members and employers can help to accommodate employees' needs by providing flexible and discrimination-free workplaces.

Source: Forbes, "Sex Discrimination, Age Discrimination, Family Responsibilities Discrimination," Ashlea Ebeling, Sept. 10, 2012

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