The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone. But parents, especially single parents, have faced particular challenges related to balancing work and home-schooling as Coronavirus has closed schools and demanded parents facilitate virtual learning. Even with federal laws designed to protect them, many parents say they have been wrongfully fired during the pandemic for trying to take care of their children.
Women have always faced uphill climbs to match men’s employment numbers, receive equal pay for their work, and overcome generations of gender discrimination. But in early 2020, for a brief three months, women held more jobs than men in the U.S. economy. Then, the pandemic hit, and those numbers plummeted. In December 2020, after a year of unparalleled ups and downs, U.S. employers cut 140,000 jobs. In the wake of COVID-19, these numbers may not be that surprising, but the demographic breakdown was:
Obviously, there were men who lost their jobs in December 2020, particularly among black and Latino populations. However, these numbers were more than offset by white men stepping back into the workplace. What caused this stark gender gap? Many believe it is the number of women having to do double duty in their jobs and as part-time educators for their children learning remotely.
In March 2020, as COVID-19 emergency responses were just getting started, the U.S. legislature passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This stop-gap law was designed to protect employees of smaller businesses with 50 to 500 employees who needed to take time off because of COVID-19. The first federal mandatory paid leave law, it required employers to give eligible employees:
While the Coronavirus continues to close schools and force employees to work remotely into 2021, the protection provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired on December 31, 2020. Whether Congress will renew the protections in the new year remains to be determined at the time this article was written.
Recently, there have been a surge of lawsuits filed by parents who say they were wrongfully fired, denied parental leave, or subjected to workplace discrimination because of COVID-19. Between March and November 2020, there were at least 40 lawsuits filed alleging family status discrimination. They say they were wrongfully fired in violation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. According to these lawsuits, parents were denied parental leave or retaliated against when they returned to work after caring for their children or sick family members.
Parental discrimination in these lawsuits took a variety of forms, but many involved employers objecting to children interfering with employees working from home. For example, one California mom says her boss fired her after complaining that her 1-year-old was making noise during conference calls. Her manager told her, “You need to take care of your kid situation.”
Others say they were fired or threatened with demotion because they tried to exercise their rights to leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. A Texas dad was told to “keep your mouth shut” when he asked for time off to care for his three children. Joan Williams, a law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law said:
“What we’re seeing is a wave of discrimination. . . . We’re going to be seeing the economic consequences of this period — and they’re going to be to impoverish women and children for decades.”
If you think you were wrongfully fired during the pandemic, you should speak to an experienced workplace discrimination attorney right away. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was new and short-lived, violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act provide a model for workplace discrimination attorneys to fight back against employers who discriminated against parents caring for their kids during this especially difficult time.
At Eisenberg & Baum, our experienced employment discrimination attorneys understand the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and can help you enforce it. If you have been wrongfully fired because you tried to care for your children, we can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.