Driveway Moment

A working mom's driveway moment, hearing a radio story about companies being sued for unfair treatment of employees who need to balance work and family.

I love the Marketplace Work and Family Desk. Driving to work in the morning or driving home at night, I always know I’m about to hear something interesting when I hear Kai Ryssdal introduce a new story by Hillary Wicai — a “driveway moment.”

Last week, she did a piece about how family leave laws have spurred a rise in complaints against employers. The gist of it is that companies are increasingly being sued for unfair treatment of employees who need to balance their work and family lives. Just as they had to scramble to come up with sexual harassment policies in the 90s, companies now are having to develop policies to deal with complaints of family responsibility discrimination.

Here’s why I liked this story so much: It’s not just about working mothers and the demands that they place on employers.

It’s about men and women who have encountered problems as they attempted to balance their jobs with caring for family members both young and old.

I’ve cut and pasted a few excerpts below:

“Take 44-year-old Andrew Barton. When Barton’s mom died after a horseback-riding accident, the Bartons asked for two weeks of unpaid leave. They had to care for his dad who was on dialysis because his mom used to do that. The CEO told Barton to take the time he needed. But he fired the couple after just one week.”

“Consuelo Pinto with the Center (for WorkLife Law) says people are now suing for being discriminated against as caregivers and not just on the basis of gender.”

And Amy Bess, an employment attorney and employer herself, says, “More men have family obligations in caring for children these days than ever before. But then similarly you have very senior employees in the workplace who are now facing obligations to care for elderly parents.”

I like this story because, sometimes, I get a little weary of being viewed by society a “Working Mom!” with a capital W, M Exclamation Point!

I like to think that I and many of the women I know come from working families where both partners do their best to do great jobs at work and be great caregivers at home.

I also see the way demographics are shifting. More and more people from the Boomer generation soon may have to care for their aging parents. And unless that burden also is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of women, I see a day, not far off, when a lot of men—like Andrew Barton—will be needing flexible schedules in order to fulfill caregiver roles they probably never imagined they would be taking on.

And so I say, family-friendly workplaces for all! I’d love to get to a place where we as a society no longer make work and caregiving just a woman’s issue. This story gave me hope that we might be on our way.

2 thoughts on “Driveway Moment

  1. I’ve always thought it was strange how we as a society treat work as a completely separate part of our lives. Leave work at work and home at home, the tradition seems to be.

    But that’s ridiculous! Our lives are messy–they can’t be contained in separate compartments. So if we have babies, or parents who need our help, or our own physical challenges to deal with, these things will spill into our work lives. Employers need to account for that, and rather than blame the employee, help her deal with things so she can be as productive and loyal as possible.

  2. I think we are lucky to work in such a family-friendly environment. I can’t imagine getting fired for taking off time you were cleared to take!

    I think it will be interesting to watch how more and more men might need to take time off to take care of sick parents, possibly children, etc. I wonder if women will still get paid 75% less.

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