Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

Accommodating for the Work/Family Conflict: A Proposed Public Policy Exception

Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

Accommodating for the Work/Family Conflict: A Proposed Public Policy Exception

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

The conflict between work and family obligations is increasing as more parents join the workforce and more families become single-parent units. Most parents work under the presumption of "at-will employment," meaning they can be fired for any cause or no cause at all. As such, parents are sometimes fired when they have to leave work or refuse new schedule changes in order to tend to routine childcare obligations. Certain statutory remedies, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII),1 have emerged in order to help ease this work/family tension. In practice, however, these remedies have failed to provide adequate relief. Certain public policy exceptions to the employment at will doctrine have also been carved out, but none of these exceptions encompass work/family obligations. Therefore, lawmakers must carve out one more public policy exception to the employment at will doctrine that will extend-to men and women equally-the right to attend to necessary family obligations.

Such a public policy exception to the employment at will doctrine will accomplish four main goals. First, it will accommodate routine parental obligations not covered under the FMLA. Second, unlike Title VII, it will apply to all employers, regardless of size. Third, it will reduce the need for parents to receive unemployment benefits and make receiving such compensation easier when necessary. Fourth, it will give parents who are terminated contrary to this policy a cause of action for the tort of wrongful discharge. Only when this exception has been established will the daily tensions between losing one's job or losing one's family truly be relieved.

Joanna Upton is the single mother of a young son, and her unfortunate story exemplifies the need for such a public policy exception.2 When Joanna's employer, JWP Businessland of Norfolk, Massachusetts, instituted new, longer work hours, Upton expressed her inability to comply with the scheduling changes due to her routine childcare obligations.3 JWP Businessland then fired Upton, under the theory that since she was an at-will employee, she could be fired for good cause, bad cause, or no stated cause.4 Upton took her case to court and argued that a public policy exception to the employment at will doctrine should be extended to cover childcare obligations.5 In a brief opinion, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts refused to extend such a public policy exception, stating "[t]here is no clearly established public policy which requires employers to refrain from demanding that their adult employees work long hours. Nor is any public policy directly served by an employee's refusal to work long hours."6

The Massachusetts court thus reiterated the traditional notion that routine childcare obligations do not rise to a high enough level of public concern to warrant a public policy exception to the employment at will doctrine. This court and other courts across the United States need to examine the work/family issue more seriously. The work/family conflict continues to have a chilling effect on American families. Many working parents, especially single mothers like Upton, are engaged in a continuous struggle to find the balance between exercising their rights to work and to be parents.

The purpose of this piece is to provide a background of the work/family conflict within the realm of the changing American workforce demographic. The note will discuss the traditional avenues of relief that have been carved out, focusing on the many ways in which these avenues often fall short of providing appropriate work/family remedy. Then the discussion will turn to a new proposal-that a public policy exception to the employment at will doctrine should be extended so that parents will not face the threat of losing their jobs because they choose to fulfill their important childcare responsibilities.

II. THE WORK/FAMILY CONFLICT IN THE CHANGING WORKFORCE DEMOGRAPHIC

The American workforce is evolving in ways that make handling work and family an increasingly difficult balancing act. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.