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My word of the day is "irony." I was supposed to attend the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing about updated guidance on caregiver discrimination in the workplace to live blog it for MomsRising. Then my nine-year-old daughter got sick and was home from school, so I couldn't attend. Fortunately, there are other ways to skin a cat, and the EEOC made sure I got the links to their documents and the testimony.

The updated EEOC guidance is in response to the ever-increasing numbers of jobs being lost in this tight economy and the fear that employers may, in times of needing to cut jobs, use inappropriate and illegal criteria when it comes to working parents and other caregivers. There might be instances when job cuts can't be helped, but using care giving responsibilities as an excuse is often prohibited by federal law in a variety of circumstances.

While caregivers are protected under a variety of federal anti-discrimination laws, many gender based stereotypes remain that wrongfully influence employers' hiring and firing decisions and pregnancy discrimination is apparently on the rise. The good news is that the EEOC has stepped up and issued its new guidelines, along with posting the testimony of a variety of experts, to make sure that businesses know where the lines are and which ones they can't step across.

There are reports that employers are cutting flexible work arrangements because they are too costly or employees are giving them up out fear that using them will cost them their jobs. But Cynthia Calvert of The Center for WorkLife Law reminded the EEOC in her testimony:

[Employers need to provide] training for managers, supervisors, and human resources professionals about the causes and common patterns of [family responsibilities discrimination by] adopting a policy stating that the employer will not discriminate based on family caregiving obligations, and reviewing other policies such as those relating to hiring, attendance, leave and promotion, to ensure they do not negatively impact caregivers.

Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, reiterated he importance of employers focusing on these issues because:

... both men and women are overwhelmingly likely to be working, most families do not have a stay-at-home parent or anyone available to provide care if a family member falls ill. This means that most workers are also caregivers.

But not everyone believes that and that's probably the biggest reason we need to ensure the laws are being enforced and employers are aware of these updated guidelines. Interestingly, a comment on an unrelated post at my blog reflects that:

On behalf of The Powers That Be, take my word for it that [you women are] free to be as successful in business as you wish, right up to the point at which you reschedule a meeting because you want to be at a soccer game or call in sick because your little one is ill.

Unfortunately, I am sure that commenter isn't the only power that feels that way. Here's hoping that Mr. "Powers That Be" and others like him will take a hint from the EEOC.

Joanne Bamberger writes about the intersection of motherhood and politics at her place, PunditMom.

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