In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued an enforcement guidance dealing with employers that discriminate against workers due to their roles as caregivers for disabled relatives or other persons. The guidance concerned employers, who wondered if the EEOC was attempting to make caregivers a protected classification under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the ADA prohibits discrimination against someone due to their association with a disabled person, it does not require employers to provide reasonable accommodation to caregivers.
Last week, the EEOC held hearings and released a “Best Practices” document setting forth how employers can deal with employees’ caregiving responsibilities. The suggestions include flexible hours, innovative use of paid time off allowances, and discretionary leaves of absence. The EEOC suggests that employers document and educate employees on their work-life balance policies, and make certain that the company investigates and deals with situations where middle managers fail to follow these policies.
Employers continue to wonder why the EEOC is emphasizing caregiver rights. Legal protections for caregivers generally fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and not the ADA. The EEOC’s continuing interest in this subject may be an advance indication that the agency is looking to expand its enforcement responsibilities to include caregiver rights. While the EEOC says that the new Best Practices document is not an enforcement guidance, it may set the stage for future legislative or administrative changes. The new document can be found at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/caregiver-best-practices.html.