Family-responsibilities discrimination (FReD) is a novel concept in the Philippine workplace. It is novel not because it is a new occurrence but because societal awareness is a fairly recent phenomenon. It refers to employment discrimination against workers who are burdened with care-giving duties in the family. These are primarily mothers and fathers of young children, but can also include workers with sick or aging parents, siblings, and other immediate family members.
We have always believed that as a people, we are, by nature, full of concern and compassion for colleagues who report late for work because a child needs to be dropped at school, absent because a spouse suddenly fell ill, incessantly on the phone because an aging parent needs persistent prodding to go for a check-up, or in a rush to leave by exactly five in the afternoon because a quick trip to the supermarket is imperative. The truth of the matter is that we do harshly discriminate albeit in subtle ways.
Philippine society continues to impose the task of production primarily upon men, while the task of reproduction is solely that of women. Thus, working mothers who often find themselves burdened with family responsibilities are frequently bypassed in promotion, training and similar opportunities for career advancement.
The reason is simple. One of the major considerations when deciding whether an employee is ripe for promotion is the employee’s ability to handle more complex responsibilities that will usually entail longer hours of work. This immediately puts working mothers out of the running. On many occasions, promotion to managerial positions would only come after rigorous training, which, if scheduled beyond usual working hours, or, if conducted in some place other than the customary workstation, would create a dreadful, rather than a desirable situation, for working mothers. Thus, businesses strongly driven by the usual policy of profit maximization will rarely risk giving important positions to women who are perceived to be lacking in devotion and commitment to their work because they are “mothers first and workers second.”
The effect on working fathers is somewhat different. The birth of a child means an additional mouth to feed; hence, fathers are expected to work harder and longer to earn extra income. The same is true when a family member is ailing, or aging, as medical bills start to pile up. These men are assumed to be too eager to grab every available opportunity to work beyond the usual eight hours, including weekends and holidays, for some overtime and holiday premium. Hence, many employers actually feel that they are doing their male employees a favor by giving them extra work. The inevitable consequence is their inability to take on care-giving duties even if deep within their hearts, they long to cradle the newborn that needs their nurturing, or stroke the grey hair of the parents that nurtured them. If and when they do, and thereby ask for emergency leave (due to their very short paternity leave), they are sure to hear unkind remarks (what’s the use of having a wife?) if not outright ridicule (you’re a henpecked husband!).
Family-responsibilities discrimination happens to countless workers in countless workplaces but is often misunderstood. It deprives women of professional growth while men are alienated from the people they truly love and cherish. It drives women away from the workplace, and men away from home.
How well do we know FReD?
Atty. Emily Sanchez Salcedo is the director of the Center for Professional Development in Business (CPDB) of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.