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Minnesotans providing elder care may face workplace discrimination

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently began surveying the number of Americans providing elder care. In a three-month survey period reported in the published 2011 results, 39.8 million people over age 15 provided unpaid care to someone over 65 for reasons related to aging.

For workers in Minnesota and nationwide, those numbers forecast a growing struggle to balance job duties with caring for older family members, often aging parents. Yet the increased number of family responsibility discrimination lawsuits -- from 444 cases in 1989 to 2,207 cases nationwide in 2008 -- suggests that more needs to be done to prevent America's workers from facing eldercare discrimination from their employers.

A recently published report, coauthored by the AARP Public Policy Institute and a research center at a law school, inventoried current legal protections against caregiver discrimination in the workplace. It noted that claims are sometimes available under existing laws like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

However, the report also found gaps in worker protections. For example, the FMLA covers only about half of all workers because it applies only to employers whose workforce numbers 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius. Others are excluded from FMLA protections due to its statutory prerequisites: workers generally must work a full year of work before taking leave, and recertification is required after current leave balances are depleted.

Employees who care for elder parents are no less hard working than their coworkers. If you believe that an employer may be discriminating against you on this basis, an attorney can review your case and advise you of available options under federal or state laws. In some instances, local laws may surpass the protections offered by federal law. For example, the Minnesota Parental Leave Act may apply to employers with 21 or more workers at any one site.

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

• Our firm handles situations similar to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Minneapolis FMLA Leave page.

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