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Are Maryland workers up against caregiver discrimination?

Many Maryland workers whose parents are aging may be going through the unique transition of becoming their parents' caregivers. Caring for an older parent is becoming a new challenge for many Metro D.C. families as changing demographics mean more households have two people in the workforce and more Americans are reaching older ages.

Fortunately, the federal Family Medical Leave Act does provide workers with 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave should they need time off work to care for an ailing parent. However, FMLA does not apply to all employers and employees, and many workers do not need a 12-week leave as immediately as they need flexibility to bring their parents to doctors' appointments and paid sick days to care for them from time to time.

A recent study by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the University of California's Center for Worklife Law says that America's workforce is experiencing caregiver discrimination. The working caregivers of older adults are reportedly being denied FMLA rights as well as being treated unfairly in the workplace.

The report calls for "family caregivers" to be added into federal employment law statues as a protected class.

For now, workers whose rights are violated in the workplace may be able to make a claim under the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, among other federal laws and local laws.

However, many people believe that federal lawmakers need to protect workers by instituting an outright ban on caregiver or family responsibility discrimination.

Workers who care for their parents have a lot on their shoulders, and discrimination certainly should not be added to their load. Whether new laws protecting caregivers come into existence or not, those who feel their workplace rights are not being respected may benefit from seeking an advocate.

Source: Forbes, "Sex Discrimination, Age Discrimination, Family Responsibilities Discrimination," Ashlea Ebeling, Sept. 10, 2012

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