Work/life law expert Joan Williams
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Joan Williams is the founder of the The Center for Work Life Law at the University of California Hastings School of Law. She works with people who believe they are facing discrimination at work because they are caregivers.
Williams says research often backs them up.
"Studies show that discrimination against mothers is the strongest for of gender discrimination in today's workplace," said Williams.
At the same time, "If a man shows that he has caregiving responsibilities, he actually can trigger bias even more dramatic than that triggered by mothers."
Williams writes about work-life issues, and how it affects men and women in her new book, "Reshaping the Work Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter."
Her book tour brought her to the Twin Cities recently to talk about work and life balance at the 2010 Work/Life and Flexibility Expo in Minneapolis.
Williams sees caregiver bias as something employers must pay attention to.
"Family responsibilities discrimination is a very rapidly growing area of employment law," said Williams. "There's been a 400-percent increase in successful cases, and these cases are more likely to win than most other kids of employment discimination cases."
"This is a real risk-management issue point for employers," she added.
Williams says employers need to train their workforce to recognize what is legal and what is not when it comes to addressing work-life balance issues.
She also says it's time for clear public policy on the matter.
"You have families that really, sorely need the flexibility and the time for family care, and they're not being provided with the kind of supports that they are in other industrialized countries," said Williams.
"Often it's the employer who ends up holding the bag."
Williams says well-managed workplaces will have a plan in place for inevitable family emergencies.
"If you are caring for an elderly relative with a serious medical condition, it doesn't matter how hard it is for the employer. The employer has a federally mandated duty to give that employee time off," said Williams.
"These things are going to happen, and so a well-managed workplace starts out with ther heroic assumption that people have families, and if a parent is dying, the worker won't be there. It's just a reality," said Williams.
"The best way to handle the situation is to have measures in place so that when someone needs to leave for a family crisis that things don't ground to a halt, because you know what? The family crisis will come," added Williams.
Minnesota does have resources for employers and employees. One non-profit organization is the Working Family Resource Center.
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