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Accommodation Subverted: The Future of Work/Family Initiatives in a 'Me, Inc.' World

Rachel S. Arnow-Richman

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Texas Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 12, 2003

This Article considers the viability of mandated employer accommodation of family caregiving in a work culture that prizes employee mobility and independence. Extant accommodation mandates, such as the ADA and the FMLA, have been only moderately successful in deconstructing discriminatory work structures that operate to exclude underrepresented workers. Court decisions interpreting those laws frequently invoke equality principles to limit their reach and preserve employer discretion, while decisions favorable to disadvantaged plaintiffs have often occasioned popular backlash. These circumstances call into question the efficacy of accommodation as a vehicle for achieving results-based equality for caregivers. Such difficulties, the Article suggests, must be analyzed against the development of a "Me, Inc." work culture, an environment typified by worker assumption of responsibility for training and education, increased employer demand for "extra-role" behavior, significant worker mobility and a corresponding decline in long-term employment relationships. The emerging view of workers as autonomous companies is in direct tension with society's historical designation of the employer as the party primarily responsible for accommodating the "life-cycle" needs of its workforce. On a practical level, changes in the nature and duration of work relationships mean that employers will have limited ability to absorb costs associated with accommodation, and, more significantly, that any judicial interpretation or popular conception of the employer's duty to accommodate will be constrained by the expectation of employee self-reliance. The Article therefore cautions that expansive efforts to mandate employer accommodation of caregiving risk internalizing the norms they reject and are unlikely to succeed on their own in establishing a work ethic more inclusive of family caregiving. It proposes instead three preliminary steps to redressing caregiver disadvantage that draw on established channels of federal employment regulation: the vigorous pursuit of class-based discrimination claims, reinvigoration of collective bargaining, and the creation of a government-administered system of wage replacement that incentivizes employer-initiated programs to assist caregivers.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 68

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Date posted: October 28, 2003  

Suggested Citation

Arnow-Richman, Rachel S., Accommodation Subverted: The Future of Work/Family Initiatives in a 'Me, Inc.' World. Texas Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 12, 2003. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=440000 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.440000

Contact Information

Rachel S. Arnow-Richman (Contact Author)
University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )
2255 East Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States
303-871-6264 (Phone)
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