In workplace law, we often see groups of workers that are marginalized by their employers or fellow employees. The treatment of these employees can dramatically affect the working environment.
In her article, Mutual Marginalization: Individuals with Disabilities and Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities, Nicole Buonocore Porter explores two specific groups that remain heavily stigmatized in modern society – those with caregiving responsibilities and those that have disabilities. Professor Porter highlights the connection between these employees and their treatment in the workplace. While the link between these two groups is not readily apparent, Professor Porter carefully addresses the disparate treatment of these two types of workers.
In her paper, Professor Porter discusses the “special treatment stigma” that both groups often suffer. Those with disabilities may face resentment by fellow employees when they receive work accommodations not offered to other workers. Similarly, pregnant workers often face a similar stigma, as co-workers and managers will anticipate that these employees will need special assistance. Both groups often experience discrimination in the hiring context, as employers may expect (either correctly or otherwise) that employment of these workers will raise operating costs.
As Professor Porter points out, the law extends broad protections to workers with disabilities. Under federal law, employers are required to reasonably accommodate these employees up to the point of undue hardship. The case law reveals that this statutory requirement has some actual teeth, and while often stigmatized, disabled workers still can receive favorable treatment under the law. At the same time, those workers with caregiving responsibilities do not enjoy the same types of protections. The Family and Medical Leave Act’s leave requirement applies only to larger employers, is limited to twelve weeks, and is unpaid. While the FMLA is an important first step for workers, it does not provide the same types of workplace protections afforded to those with disabilities. And Title VII does not provide any real relief for these workers. Some states and local jurisdictions have stepped in to offer additional protections, but this stigmatized group lacks significant benefits on a more broad-based level.
The parallel drawn between these two groups is revealing, and the article provides a refreshing look at this unexplored area of the law. Through her analysis, Professor Porter provides a “theoretical justification for the reasonable accommodation provision under the ADA” while arguing for a similar “accommodation mandate for workers with caregiving responsibilities.” (P. 2.) Professor Porter thus advocates for broader protections for caregivers, as this group has a substantial need for workplace accommodations. By justifying the accommodations given to workers with disabilities, Professor Porter explores why similar accommodations are needed for caregivers.
Like all of her scholarship, Professor Porter’s work expands upon important areas of the law. It draws a new connection between these two groups that are often stigmatized. And it serves as an important reminder of how federal law can effectively change the working environment for certain groups of employees. It is critical to continually reconsider the scope of these workplace protections, and to identify where the law can be more inclusive. Professor’s Porter’s work effectively hits upon all of these areas.