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We don’t have to remind you that it’s been a rough four months for working parents. According to a recent survey from Udemy, 90 percent of working moms feel that childcare and homeschooling are keeping them from doing their jobs, and 78 percent of working parents are concerned that this “new normal” will have a long-lasting effect on their career and quality of life. That certainly was the case for Drisana Rios, who was working for an insurance company in San Diego until last month, when she said she was fired for going to HR about her boss’ discrimination against her as a mother working from home.
In June, Rios went viral with her Instagram post about how her boss had complained frequently about her children making noise during online meetings.
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“He wanted me to figure out a way to keep the kids quiet 😣,” she wrote. “I went to Human Resources with proof of what was going [on] for the last 3 months, and 7 days later AFTER that I got fired!!!!”
Rios hired attorney Daphne Delvaux and filed a lawsuit against HUB International. At issue, Delvaux explained to SheKnows, is 1) the fact that the manager never once complained about the noise of her male colleagues’ children, which is clearly showing discrimination against Rios as a mother. And 2) she was fired after taking her evidence to human resources, which Delvaux says is grounds for saying she was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for making her complaint.
“While we can’t comment on pending litigation, HUB is proud to have successfully transitioned 90% of its 12,000+ employees to working remotely from home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” a company spokesperson told SheKnows.
Every time we read about Rios, who blogs as ModernCaliMom, we’re filled with rage anew. But also we get scared for all the other parents out there barely keeping their heads above water. With many school districts only offering partial reopening plans — the best they can do to keep us all safe right now — we might expect to see more examples of managers getting fed up with interruptions from children stuck at home. That’s why we asked Delvaux to give us some tips on what parents (and sadly, we’re mostly talking about moms) can do if they fear biased retaliation from their employers.
1. See if you qualify for partial leave or accommodations.
Employers do have a right to expect you to do the work assigned to you, attend meetings, and work certain hours. It’s nice when they’re flexible about these things, but if they’re not, you may still have options.
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed this spring, workers at companies with less than 500 employees can qualify for an additional 10 weeks of family leave at two-thirds pay if they have to care for a child because school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19. You can take this as partial time, in order to spread out the weeks.
“A lot of my clients have been able to take advantage of this new leave and protect their job, and I encourage them to do so,” Delvaux told us.
You may also request accommodations be made to change meeting times or schedules if you have a disability, are pregnant, or pumping.
Unfortunately, Rios’ employer has more than 500 employees, so this was never an option, but she was actually completing all her work and attending all meetings.
2. Recognize and document when discrimination is happening.
If your manager is making demands of you that they’re not doing for other employees, or making disparaging remarks about your children or your “lack of commitment” (a common stereotype of mothers), it’s time for you to take notes.
“I always tell my clients to email themselves a daily summary of everything that happens, so that there’s a time stamp, because when there’s handwritten notes, often they will question when those are written,” Delvaux said.
Remember that if you do get terminated or resign, you’ll lose access to your work email and any group chat software, so email your documentation to a personal account.
3. Talk to other women.
Delvaux always suggests talking to other women in the company to see if this is a pattern of behavior. “It’s a lot easier as a group to combat discrimination than as one person,” she said.
4. Keep doing your work.
Once you make a complaint, your boss may try to look for any legitimate excuse to terminate you, so don’t give them that opening.
5. Confront your employer, and put it in writing.
It’s not going to be a fun conversation, but you have to tell your manager that you perceive their actions as discriminatory. If you do so in person or on the phone or video, recap the conversation in email.
“Just say, ‘Hey, this is an email to memorialize our conversation. This is what you; this is what I said,’” Delvaux explained.
Rarely do these conversations actually resolve the issue, she said, but these are all records you’ll want later.
6. Take your complaint to human resources.
“Usually, when human resources does its job, what they do in a situation like this is investigate,” Devaux said. “Then they would often reprimand or counsel the manager or separate my client from the manager and move them to another team.”
This can work, especially since this isn’t a great time for companies to look like they don’t care about working mothers.
Sadly, as we all know, there are some human resources departments that do their job, and others that feel their loyalty is only to upper management, not to the whole team. (See also: the Weinstein Company.) Still, you’ve got to do this, and you’ve got to keep records of what transpires.
7. Hire a lawyer.
You may be tempted to look up the laws online and go straight to an agency such as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This might be shooting yourself in the foot, Delvaux said.
“A lot of women will look at their rights under federal law, which is really the bare minimum, when in many states you have way more rights than you think you do,” she explained. “And in addition to state rights, you actually have city ordinances.”
Your best bet for navigating this tangled web of laws is a local attorney whose job it is to know them all backwards and forwards. They will be able to recognize which laws your employer might be violating, can navigate the court system, and file things in just the right manner to move your case forward. Delvaux said that sometimes when people try to represent themselves they miss deadlines, misfile things, and wind up owing money to their former employer rather than the other way around.
“Almost all attorneys like me do free consultation,” she said. “And almost all attorneys like me who represent plaintiffs work on a contingency basis, meaning that we don’t charge our clients. We eventually get paid through the company. So don’t be scared to call a lawyer.”
8. Find a new job, and go on with your life.
It might be your fantasy to sue your company, get your old job back or live off of the damages you win, but that’s not realistic. These cases usually take a year to resolve, and the courts are even slower now with coronavirus delays.
“I always tell my clients to move on with their life, get another job, and let me do my job,” Delvaux said.
The good news is that you’re probably not immediately on some kind of blacklist of people who sue their bosses. Unless you’re like Rios and shout about your case from the internet’s rooftops, a prospective employer would have to look pretty hard to find out whether you’d filed a complaint. And when you resolve your case, your lawyer will usually require the former employer to stay mum about it.
As for Rios, Delvaux is hopeful that some employers will actually admire what she’s done.
“Someone who takes a stand against discrimination — when that becomes your reputation, it’s not always a bad thing,” she said. “Companies who know that they are aligned with that sort of bravery will actually be drawn to her.”
Stuck at home with the kids this summer? These summer camp alternatives might allow you to get some work done.
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