A woman who was eight months pregnant was asked to leave her job because, according to her boss, her pregnancy “didn’t look right for the company.” Another woman suspected she was not hired after explaining to her prospective employer that the gap on her resume was because of time she needed to care for her ailing mother. A man was fired after asking for a few extra days off of work to care for his wife who was recovering from surgery.
Most American workers have families to care for and most American families rely on parents and others to provide essential income. Yet our workplaces have not caught up to this reality and often subject workers to unfair treatment because of their family responsibilities. Too many working parents and caregivers, especially those with limited income, lack access to lawyers and know little about their workplace rights. At the same time, studies have indicated that nearly one in five employers is out of compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act, the only federal law designed specifically to address the issue of work/family integration. Workers with families need assistance navigating the legal labyrinth of the workplace when they encounter discrimination or are faced with a family health crisis.
A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center and Outten & Golden LLP, the employee-rights law firm, are teaming up to help. A Better Balance is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting equality and expanding choices for men and women at all income levels so they may care for their families without sacrificing their economic security. Outten & Golden LLP, is a national preeminent employment law firm dedicated to empowering employees and protecting their civil rights in the workplace. It is also one of the first and only firms in the nation to have a practice area dedicated to Family Responsibilities Discrimination.
Together, these two New York City-based organizations have launched a free legal clinic to provide information and advice to workers with family responsibilities about their workplace rights. The clinic grows out of a project at A Better Balance that was created to extend work/family advocacy to a segment of the workforce that faces stubbornly inflexible work hours and whose economic security is easily endangered by a family crisis. These workers are often forced to choose between their jobs and their family’s well being; for them, a sick child or family emergency can mean the difference between just scraping by and tumbling into poverty. No one should have to face such an impossible choice.
As part of the Families @ Work project, employees can now access a Guide to Your Rights at Work for workers with family responsibilities, which outlines common questions and answers about working while pregnant and while caring for loved ones. Attorneys from A Better Balance and Outten & Golden LLP are also conducting trainings for workers, lawyers, social workers and others to help them understand the scope of the law and the protections available for families at work. Individuals in the New York City area who suspect they may have been treated unfairly at work because they are pregnant, or had to take time off to care for a sick child or other relative, or for any other family-related reason, are encouraged to call the Families @ Work Legal Clinic hotline at 212-430-5982 to set up an appointment with a lawyer.
About the Author: Phoebe Taubman is an Equal Justice Works Fellow with A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, which fights to give American workers the time and flexibility they need to care for their families without risking their economic security. She leads a project to expand work/family advocacy to low-income New Yorkers by empowering and educating them about their rights to be free from workplace discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities. Prior to joining A Better Balance, Phoebe served as a law clerk to the Honorable Faith S. Hochberg of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark and as a litigation associate at Mayer Brown in New York City. Phoebe is a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Women in the Profession. She is a graduate of Harvard University and of Georgetown University Law Center.