Mutual Marginalization: Individuals with Disabilities and Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
49 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2013 Last revised: 18 Jun 2013
Date Written: February 12, 2013
This paper explores the marginalization of two groups of employees — individuals with disabilities and workers with caregiving responsibilities. One might argue that these two groups have little in common. In fact, however, while not perfectly aligned, these two groups of individuals have much in common in the workplace. First, these employees are unable to consistently meet their employers’ expectations of an “ideal worker.” Thus, they often must seek adjustments or modifications in the workplace to accommodate for their failure to conform to the ideal worker norm. This causes both groups of employees to suffer from “special treatment stigma,” which manifests itself in resentment by co-workers because of the special benefits these employees receive and in employers’ reluctance to hire individuals belonging to these groups because of the real or perceived increased costs of employing such individuals. Despite these similarities, the law has dealt with these two groups of employees very differently. Individuals with disabilities are entitled to broad protection in the workplace, including the rather unique reasonable accommodation provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act. On the other hand, despite some laws protecting some aspects of pregnancy and caregiving, workers with caregiving responsibilities do not enjoy the same broad protection as individuals with disabilities.
In this paper, I will explore why the law treats these groups of employees differently. I will address many of the concepts that are thought to distinguish individuals with disabilities and workers with caregiving responsibilities and are therefore used to justify their different treatment under the law. But I will ultimately conclude that these distinctions, once unpacked, do not justify the law’s different treatment of these two groups. Moreover, these differences are not as significant as the similarity that binds these two groups together — the special treatment stigma. Thus, I will explore whether a combined legal and theoretical approach to eliminating the special treatment stigma is feasible and defensible. Specifically, I seek to provide theoretical justification for the reasonable accommodation provision under the ADA and argue that the same justification can be used to support an accommodation mandate for workers with caregiving responsibilities.
Keywords: disability, caregiving, discrimination, gender, workplace, employment, bias, stigma
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