Study: Widespread discrimination against parents and caregivers at work

Year of issue 2022
Date 2022.05.24

Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency calls for legal improvements

Discrimination against parents and caregivers at work is widespread. 41 per cent of parents and 27 per cent of caregivers state in a survey carried out on behalf of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency and published on Tuesday that they personally feel discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of parenthood or child care and/or providing care to family members. 
“The figures clearly underline what many parents and caregivers also tell our counselling team: if you take on caregiving responsibilities, you  face disadvantages at work”, Bernhard Franke, the acting head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, commented on the results. “This way, ultimately, employers also harm themselves, as they demotivate employees.”

According to the study, 56 per cent of the parents surveyed experienced at least one situation of discrimination during pregnancy. 26 per cent of the mothers and 15 per cent of the fathers-to-be experienced, for instance, that some of their responsibilities were taken away from them, that they were given less demanding tasks or that career opportunities were prevented and/or put on hold. In total, roughly four in ten mothers (39 per cent) report negative experiences in connection with maternity leave. For instance, the required occupational health measures were not taken adequately.

When applying for parental leave, fathers more often than mothers report discriminatory experiences. 19 per cent of fathers and 11 per cent of mothers, for instance, felt under pressure not to take parental leave or to reduce the length of parental leave. Others report derogatory or negative reactions when they announced that they would take parental leave (24 per cent of women, 30 per cent of men). When re-entering the labour force after parental leave, six in ten (62 per cent) of those surveyed report at least one negative experience, and in this context, it was more often mothers (69 per cent) than fathers (48 per cent). Those surveyed often mentioned that flexible working hours were not granted or not to the desired extent; also when it came to mobile work regulations and leave during the day care centre closing times and school holidays, many parents reported that they felt their needs were not accommodated enough.

Regarding care for family members, 48 per cent of caregivers report having experienced discrimination in the workplace at least once. Examples include a lack of salary increases (women 15 per cent, men 17 per cent) or a worse performance assessment (women 12 per cent, men 16 per cent), but also a lack of consideration for caring responsibilities when scheduling meetings (women 16 per cent, men 19 per cent). In the group of those wishing to take caregiver leave (n=86), 54 per cent stated that superiors reacted disparagingly or negatively to the duration of caregiver leave. 48 per cent of mothers who had been employed on a temporary basis in the past six years additionally stated that their employment contract was not extended or that they had not been given a permanent contract in connection with a pregnancy, parental leave or childcare (fathers 15 per cent). 15 per cent of the mothers report of dismissals or workplace redundancies (fathers 6 per cent).

In the light of the study findings, Bernhard Franke has called for legal improvements. He said that it was important to better protect employees against discrimination on grounds of parenthood and caring responsibilities: Franke called for expanding the grounds for discrimination protected under section 1 of the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG) to include the term “familial caring responsibility”: This would require employers to protect employees against discrimination on the ground of assuming a familial caring responsibility. This obligation is an integral part of protection against discrimination”, he said.

Such a legal protection amendment is supported by a legal opinion on protecting caregivers against discrimination (“Diskriminierungsschutz von Fürsorgeleistenden – Caregiver Discrimination”) by Professor Gregor Thüsing and Lena Bleckmann (both from the University of Bonn), which was also published on Tuesday. The opinion shows that there are gaps in protection in the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG) at the expense of those providing care,  because discrimination in connection with parenthood has so far been only partially and, in the case of long-term care, hardly ever been recognised as discrimination under the AGG.

It argues that, in addition, it makes sense to expand company measures to protect employees against discrimination and to improve work-life balance. This can, for instance, be achieved through training that raises awareness among staff managers and senior company executives of the issue and by expanding in-company complaints bodies.

Here you will find a fact sheet on the research project.

Here you will find a fact sheet on the legal opinion.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency is an independent contact point for persons affected by discriminatio. It was established in 2006 when the General Act on Equal Treatment entered into force. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency does public relations work and research on the topic of Discrimination and offers legal initial counselling for people who have been discriminated against on grounds of ethnic origin, religion, ideology, sexual identity, age, disability or gender.