Don’t let COVID19 Increase Discrimination against Women and negate all the efforts we’ve put into workplace equality!

Perhaps you’ve read the news recently and seen the articles about how workers working from home are working three hours longer per day on average and facing increased stress, burnout, and health challenges as a result (2) On top of this additional unpaid work time, and challenges with time management, parenting and overseeing online education, parents who work from home may also be dealing with family responsibilities discrimination – such as employers with rules that do not allow parents to “watch” their children during their work time, even when working from home. Florida State University recently was in the news due to public outcry about their workplace policy about this, which led to them reversing their prior position (3).

Most parents do not work for large enough companies or have the right social connections to use the media to force their employers to change their position on work from home rules. Yet CCSD and other school districts are requiring children to be schooled from home, jeopardizing the jobs of workers with employers like Florida State University where they may lose their job or be docked hours or pay that they cannot afford, due to lack of childcare.

Allowing parental or caregiver discrimination means permitting gender discrimination since 53-68% of caregivers are female (8). If you need further encouragement, I also suspect that if we do not address this preventatively, citizens may address it later through discrimination litigation in an attempt to recoup lost income, which would further burden employers and court systems.

Without additional legal protections, I think we’re going to see an increase in the gender wage gap we’ve worked so hard to shrink, as women step down from their jobs and/or are turned down for promotions over male colleagues due to perceived performance issues related to parental or caregiving.

Some parents may be forced to weigh leaving a child home alone and or unsupervised against losing their job and facing homelessness. The updated FMLA rules(4) leave this problem to the states to deal with, and our state has not done so. This means employees who cannot work due to CCSD’s decision that all students will be going to school online may lose their jobs, be penalized in hours, pay, or promotion opportunities because while they are home, they are also having to watch their kids., and are additionally likely to be at risk of greater financial and emotional distress.

If this is left to individual employers, it is likely that socioeconomically disadvantaged Nevadans will suffer the most impact from the lack of job protection or regulation relating to work from home / parenting policies, and CCSD’s school policies. While the EEOC has published guidance regarding workplace discrimination (5) Few states or localities have created such regulations to prevent family responsibilities discrimination, but some states, such as New York (6, 7) address this by making Caregiver and Parental Status protected categories to prevent discrimination related to this.

What can we do? I have recently been talking my local League of Women’s voter’s chapter where I volunteer on the mental health committee, to try to find ways to bring this issue up to our legislature as a concern during the next session. I’m still pretty new to advocacy, but I suggested one idea for consideration would be to consider at minimum, a temporary, COVID-19 response measure that prevents “family responsibilities discrimination”, and directs employers to follow CDC recommendations to “Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or take care of children due to school and childcare closures. Additional flexibilities might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.” (1) 

While FMLA and other regulations partially addressed this issue, the time frames covered are insufficient for the need working parents now face. Since we know COVID19 is going to stick around a while longer, discussions need to happen now, not after families’ wellbeing is further impacted.

I also think parents should not be forced to leave their children at home alone, to work off-site, and should be considered in these types of discussions as studies of young children (6-7 years old) have shown children left at home alone have worse mental health (9).

Management perception of performance has been proven to differ from actual performance in studies related to neurodiversity, which may lead to problems in how women get treated when acting in parental/caregiver roles, also. I suggest that perceived performance differences that may be just in a manager’s head — perhaps fueled on having to make workplace accommodations– could also keep women from getting promoted at the same rate as men. To prevent this (as I would encourage women to sue if they think this ends up happening to them) I suggest employers consider the methods they use for deciding who should be promoted, and if it is not quantifiably substantiated in a way that could withstand court scrutiny, hire an Industrial/Organizational consultant like me to help you rethink how to assess employee performance, pay, and promotion through fair policies and procedures that would hold up in the event of a future lawsuit.


*As always, these opinions are all me – I don’t represent any entity or their opinion, here*

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