Emergency physicians take care of patients 24-7-365. Yet we are not immune to life transitions and challenges, including personal and family medical and life events. For too long, family leave has been presented mainly as a women’s issue. In reality, it affects everyone. Today, families are created in various ways: biologically and via surrogacy, adoption, and fostering. Allowing time off only for biological mothers promotes the antiquated idea that caring for children is women’s work; this is both paternalistic and unfair to men (including same-sex male parents) who want to share the parenting load and be home during those special early weeks and months.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 38 – No 09 – September 2019
While we all hope to work for groups and organizations that understand this concept and voluntarily commit to practices that promote a fair workplace, it is also important to know the legal protections available for those who require family leave.
Workplace Discrimination Protections
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. Title VII also applies to private and public colleges, universities, and employment agencies.1 When discrimination occurs, physicians have various options to address the problem. It can be reported internally to the organization, for instance with the assistance of human resources or employee-assistance programs. A formal charge can also be placed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).2 A full list of laws enforced by the EEOC can be found at www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/index.cfm.
In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.3 During employment interviews (and, later, during promotion or leadership decision making), inquiring about pregnancy status or future family plans or asking about children is illegal. Such inquiries can lead to civil lawsuits for discriminatory hiring practices. While some of these inquiries are well-intentioned attempts to get to know prospective employees better, some groups have illegally avoided hiring women who have or plan to have children. If the prospective employee brings up the topic, it may be discussed. There are other examples of inappropriate inquiries during interviews and the hiring process, and it is recommended that leaders provide guidelines and training to all personnel involved in the interview and hiring process. At a minimum, all personnel should be familiar with the topics that cannot be asked about during interviews.4