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New Jersey Senator Proposes a Bill to Make Discrimination Against Family Caregivers a Violation of Federal Law

From time to time, both federal and New Jersey anti-discrimination laws frequently undergo changes – some minor but some major – so, if you believe you’ve been harmed by discrimination or harassment at your job, be sure you have a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney on your side who’s up to date on all the changes to the law, and the impacts those can have. For example, Title VII, the federal law that bans many forms of workplace discrimination, originally only protected people from discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. Over the decades, Congress added protections against age, pregnancy and disability discrimination. Now, U.S. Senator Cory Booker has proposed a new expansion, which would make discrimination against family caregivers (sometimes also known as family responsibilities discrimination) a violation of federal law.

Sen. Booker’s proposal, which is entitled the “Protecting Family Caregivers from Discrimination Act,” would make family caregiver status a protected class much like race, sex, religion, national origin, disability and age. Employers, under the proposed act, would be barred from firing, demoting, refusing to hire or otherwise taking adverse employment action against a person based on her/his status as a caregiver for family members, according to the senator’s web page. The bill would also, similar to the anti-discrimination and harassment protections afforded to those other groups, prohibit retaliation against a worker who seeks to enforce her/his rights under the expanded law.

Sen. Booker’s proposal is not the first of its kind. In 2016, New York City enacted a law that banned family caregiver discrimination in the city’s workplaces.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) does not have an explicit term declaring family caregivers to be a protected group, but New Jersey’s state regulations ban family caregiver discrimination in state government employment practices. The LAD only expressly protects people from discrimination based on “race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment), marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information liability for military service, or mental or physical disability, including AIDS and HIV related illnesses.”

Potential paths forward in New Jersey for workers harmed by family caregiver discrimination

However, just because New Jersey law doesn’t have a black-and-white statutory provision banning this kind of discrimination, that doesn’t mean that you automatically have no case if you’ve been harmed at work due to discrimination based on your family caregiving obligations. Many times, an employer’s discrimination against you based upon your family caregiving responsibilities will also be wrapped up in other things that may form the basis of a winning claim.

For example, if an employer refuses to hire a candidate who is pregnant because the employer believes that the mother will assume a primary caregiving role to the new baby, and therefore be less dedicated to the job, then that might still be case where the woman can succeed. She cannot assert a family caregiver discrimination claim – because none exists in New Jersey – but the facts of her case might make up the pieces of a winning case of pregnancy discrimination or sex-stereotyping discrimination.

Similarly, consider a hypothetical father who is denied a promotion because he missed a noticeable amount of time from work to take his daughter with a chronic illness to her many medical appointments and to administer her medicines. The employer viewed the father as insufficiently “committed” to the job due to the absences and the father’s failure to delegate caregiving duties to the child’s mother. A case like this, while not a family caregiver discrimination case in New Jersey, might be a successful sex-stereotyping action or an action based on the employer’s discrimination against the father because of the father’s association with a person with disabilities (the daughter.)

As society evolves, so too do our laws. State and federal leaders continue to grapple with the many and varied forms of employment discrimination going on in the workplace, and have expanded anti-discrimination laws to address some of those issues. If you’ve been harmed by discrimination or harassment on the job, be sure you check out your rights and your legal options. Talk to the knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates, who have been working for many years to help New Jersey workers use the legal system to obtain the results they need. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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