Job Protection for Families: An Interview With Phoebe Taubman

By Randi Zuckerberg

July 4, 2017 6 min read

Parents and others caring for family members deserve fair treatment on the job. Unfortunately, pregnancy and caregiving are far too often key triggers for workplace discrimination. This bias cuts across class lines and impacts all ages and genders, affecting mothers and fathers, pregnant women, adult children caring for aging parents, and workers who care for sick or disabled relatives. Though no national law clearly outlaws bias based on a worker's family role, many states and cities have explicitly prohibited this discrimination, and more are going to follow.

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Phoebe Taubman is a senior staff attorney with A Better Balance. She works to combat discrimination and advance family-friendly public policies at the local, state and federal levels. She is a co-author of "Babygate: How to Survive Pregnancy and Parenting in the Workplace," a comprehensive guide for expecting and new parents about their workplace rights.

1) Nearly 1 in 5 employers are out of compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act, the only federal law designed specifically to address the issue of work/family integration. How does A Better Balance help families learn their employee rights?

A Better Balance is committed to educating workers with accessible know-your-rights information. In 2013, we wrote the first comprehensive guide for expecting and new parents about their workplace rights in order to arm individuals with the information they need to be their own best advocate on the job. Our country's patchwork of laws can be confusing and overwhelming — and your rights really depend on where you live and work — so we set up a website for workers to do their homework. We also run a free helpline offering information and advice to hundreds of callers each year from across the country who are facing a crisis at work related to their own illness, pregnancy or care for a loved one.

2) What questions should potential employees concerned about family rights ask before taking a new job?

This is a tricky question because it depends a lot on the bargaining power of the potential employee and the culture of the employer. Applicants who ask about parental leave or flexible work can unintentionally trigger implicit bias; employers may think that applicants who ask about such benefits will be less committed to work because of their family obligations and not even give them a chance. Men may have an easier time inquiring about family rights; fathers actually earn a bonus in the workplace, compared with the motherhood pay penalty of 4 percent per child. We advise pregnant women hunting for a job to be particularly cautious. Applicants seeking more information about potential employers' policies can also use new crowdsourcing sites, like Fairygodboss, to do their research.

3) If people suspect they have been fired for taking time for family responsibilities, what should they do first?

We counsel callers who are suspicious of discrimination to keep a careful record for themselves of any comments or actions that seem suspicious and create a written timeline of events. Can you point to co-workers who were treated better than you were? Is there evidence to suggest it was because of your gender or sex-role stereotypes or because you care for a disabled relative? Did anyone say something that revealed bias, such as, "It's a busy time for you and probably best that you go home and be with your family." Because the law varies depending on the state and city where you work, it is best to consult an attorney who knows the legal landscape in your area. You can also call our helpline at 212-430-5982.

4) How can the law be a powerful tool for social change?

First and foremost, the law can affect social change by making certain actions illegal and altering behaviors. For example, before 2006, there was no city or state in the U.S. that required employers to provide any number of paid days off for workers who are sick or have to care for an ill loved one. Now, thanks to the work of A Better Balance and our allies, a handful of states and dozens of cities have paid sick time laws on the books. As a result, millions of workers who previously went to work sick or sent a sick child to school for fear of losing pay or their job can now take the time they need to get well. Similarly, in the five years since A Better Balance highlighted a gap in the law that was forcing pregnant women off the job when all they needed was a slight change to their work to stay healthy and stay employed, more than a dozen states have enacted new protections that are helping to keep pregnant women on the job.

The law can also change society by creating incentives. New York's paid family leave law — going into effect in 2018 — guarantees job protection and partial pay to both men and women who need it to bond with a new baby or care for a seriously ill family member. By creating a benefit that is gender-neutral, is paid and ensures job security, the law will encourage fathers to play a larger role in their children's first weeks of life, which has a significant positive impact on child well-being, gender equality and women's wages.

Randi Zuckerberg is the founder of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a weekly business show on SiriusXM, "Dot Complicated." To find out more about Randi Zuckerberg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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