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Caregiver as well as Family Status Can Trigger a Charge of Actionable Legal Employment Discrimination in New York City

In January 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation which expanded the New York City Human Rights Law, making New York City a forerunner in protecting employee caregivers from workplace discrimination. Minnesota, Oregon and the state of New York prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of “familial” status, which protects employees who are pregnant, have children under the age of 18, or those who are under 18, living with the parent. The NYC law now goes a step further, prohibiting employers from discriminating against a worker based on his or her status as a caregiver.

Those who fall into this newly-protected category include anyone providing care for a minor, a disabled relative, or even a non-relative living in the person’s home. Under this law, employers may not refuse to hire, exclude, terminate, demote, refuse to promote or otherwise treat an employee unfavorably, based on the employee’s caregiving responsibilities. This is an important law for all employees, but may be particularly helpful for top-tier employees with caregiving responsibilities.

It would be convenient to assume that the new law will have little effect on C-suite employees, but this assumption may not hold true. The unacceptably slow progress made by high-level women in the workplace has often been attributed to so-called “personal” decisions which result in shifting their priorities away from work and toward family. The old thinking is that women who have made it to the C-suite fall behind by choice; they rein in their own ambitions and foreshorten their career goals in order to take on the role of family caregiver.

Moreover, there is a tendency to think that even women who have successfully risen to executive positions are inherently less ambitious than men, and lack the deep-seated self-confidence necessary to command a C-suite office. This popular thinking, however, has not been supported by the research. On the contrary, even women whose level of ambition matches that of their male counterparts are frequently the victims of blatant bias in the workplace due to their caregiver status.

In fact, at least twenty-five percent of women in the workplace blame gender for having held them back in pursuing their career goals, a perception that is even more prevalent among C-suite women. That is not to say that some men who have made it to the C-suite do not also experience workplace bias based on their caregiver status, particularly as society changes and more men assume these caregiver roles. But still, women currently face a steeper climb to CEO and other executive-level positions than men, which at least in part may explain why women occupy less than twenty percent of C-suite offices overall.


How the New Law Affects C-Suite Employees

Again, the thinking tends to be that men and women who have made it to this level in their career would simply hire a caregiver. In fact, this assumption is extremely unfair. Just because an employee has worked hard, making it to the top tier, this does not mean that person does not have the same emotional decisions to make regarding taking care of a loved one. It has been shown that worries about balancing work and family life rank as the biggest deterrents to working toward an even higher position for both men and women in executive employment roles. Overall, seven out of ten caregivers work full or part-time, representing at least 15 percent of the entire United States labor force.

Caregiving duties do not discriminate between blue-collar workers and C-suite employees. The Chief Financial Officer of a large corporation has the same feelings about his or her responsibility to take care of a loved one — and the same guilt if they are not doing the caretaking — as an office worker. This issue has been one that is largely hidden, perhaps by C-suite employees in particular. A National Alliance report found that at least half of working caregivers are reluctant to tell their supervisors about their caregiving responsibilities for fear of losing out on promotions and raises. This number actually may be higher for top-tier employees, largely because they feel their boss is more likely to expect them to hire a caregiver for their loved one. It is hoped the new law passed by New York City will help top-tier employees who are also caregivers gain relief from worrying about being discriminated against because of their caregiving role.

If you feel you are being discriminated against due to your responsibilities as a caregiver, or for any other reason, it is important to speak to a knowledgeable New York executive employment compensation attorney as soon as possible. The New York City law protects you from this type of discrimination, and your experienced executive employment attorney can address your questions and concerns, and ensure your rights are protected.

About the Author

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George Birnbaum

Since 1980, sophisticated business people have relied on George to apply the meticulous preparation, attention to detail, and devotion to his clients he learned from fabled trial lawyer Louis Nizer. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, George has over 35 years of distinguished deal-making, litigation, mediation and arbitration experience which he has used to negotiate high-stakes agreements for senior executives and select business clients throughout the United States.