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Human Resources + Legal Rights and Obligations

"Money isn’t always the primary factor for what satisfies people at work. It's about asking how do people feel valued?"

- Kate O'Phalen, PAAL Ambassador, AEA Council,

MPA Reproductive Justice

“It’s not just no-copay birth control and access to abortion care, It’s things like paid family leave [and] having good pregnancy or anti-pregnancy discrimination policies on the books."

- Amy Everitt,

NARAL VP of Special Projects


Who Should Read This Chapter: Everyone

Whether a human resource professional or a freelance artist with no institutional role or an Artistic Director who has a stellar history of support, everyone should read this chapter. The primary reason for this chapter is to lay the foundation of everything that follows, and all too rarely - if ever - do our minds, investigations, and practices have the opportunity to read about our communal and legal responsibility to caregiving, especially in our field.

This chapter is that rare opportunity. It paves the way for fulfilling any goal a reader of this handbook aims to achieve.

Take the time to read it as a survey, an introduction, and an inspiration for creating communal responsibility around caregiving that fulfills the first of the three tenets:

Is it legal?

Human Resources + The Theatre, Performing Arts, Media

When crafting the framework for caregiver support, as mentioned earlier - Is it legal, Is it ethical, Is it compassionate - often the first two steps, at least, are achieved through adequate human resources support. It's no secret that often theaters pass their human resources responsibilities to other roles in the organization, lacking the funding for a dedicated HR professional.

However, without adequate research, education, and implementation, more than the payroll is affected. Human Resources is not just administration, hiring, and on-boarding; the role also takes on the responsibility of compliance. Compliance matters because it prevents two major events in the workplace: Breaking the Law and Causing Harm; it can also serve to provide restoration.

In the context of caregiver support, an organization often takes it on as an optional benefit, choosing or not choosing support based on finances, space, or even personal scope of understanding.

The harm caused to the caregiver is inevitable, but what many institutions don't realize is that refusing to provide caregiver support - or even speaking correctly about caregiving in the workplace - could be breaking the law.

FRD: Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD)

Also called "caregiver discrimination," Family Responsibilities Discrimination "is employment discrimination against workers based on their family caregiving responsibilities."*

Right off the bat, the federal government sanctions family rights as protected in the workplace. While childcare matinees may be voluntary, many of the caregiver support systems lacking all across the country are required - from adequate lactation spaces to reasonable accommodations to even the words we use in the workplace to talk about caregiving.

"Pregnant workers, mothers and fathers of young children, breastfeeding people, and employees with aging parents or sick spouses or partners may encounter family responsibilities discrimination. They may be rejected for hire, passed over for promotion, demoted, harassed, or terminated — despite good performance — because their employers make personnel decisions based on stereotypical notions of how the employee will or should act given their family responsibilities."

- *WorkLife Law, "What is FRD?"

Sound familiar? In reading this chapter, you may discover you, or someone you know, has either been the victim or perpetrator of Family Responsibilities Discrimination. We have yet to meet a theater or media professional who hasn't at least heard of one instance of it.

What is rare is whether or not the victims or perpetrators of this discrimination know that it's agains the law - yes, even in the theatre.

In our PAAL Discrimination Survey that is ongoing, we've collected stories - as well as received them through email, phone calls, and more - of clear caregiver discrimination. The lack of Human Resources support and legal knowledge allows these stories to continue and the victims of discrimination to suffer in silence.

"[My company] agreed to a 12-week leave, which would use up all my accrued sick/vacation time and then be unpaid...nine weeks into my maternity leave, [my supervisor] informed me that I was fired."

- PAAL Discrimination Survey Participant

“I was cast as [leading lady in a Shakespeare production.] Great director, super excited. Things happened and it turned out I went through a round of in vitro right before rehearsals began. It failed and I geared up for another. I don’t remember why I told the director – I think it was because I knew I’d be giving myself a shot in the ass on the break during the longer rehearsals and thought it respectful to let him know, lest there be rumors about me and a big needle. He fired me and replaced me on the spot. Didn’t offer an understudy, though there was at least one other actor who had one on the show. He said something like, ‘I fully support becoming a parent, but I don’t know what happens to women when they’re pregnant. I can’t take a chance.'”

– Anonymous Submission

“While pregnant with my son, I was working on a Broadway show and ran into another costume designer while visiting costume shops. This designer had been my professor, my mentor and my friend. When she began rubbing my belly, she leaned in to me mysteriously and whispered softly in my ear ‘there goes your career.'”

Valerie Marcus Ramshur, PAAL Ambassador

Stories of discrimination that we've gathered in our time working with caregivers in the field range from questionable to outright illegal. Some common workplace discrimination that takes place includes:

  • Begin asked in an interview if an individual has children or is planning to have children; if they have childcare as an obstacle; family details

  • Being forced to breastfeed/chestfeed/pump in a closet, bathroom, or provided no space at all

  • Supervisors/colleagues telling - most often telling women - not to have families because it will end their career or that having a child has ended their career

  • Firing or choosing not to hire an individual because they are pregnant/have children/caregiver responsibilities

  • and more...


If you or anyone you know has experienced or suspects they have experienced/are experiencing workplace discrimination due to reproductive status or family responsibilities,

the following resources are available:


Employment Opportunity in the Workplace

Let's start with something free and achievable - and necessary. Often, taking assessment of the language we use to think about, describe, and engage with the caregiving conversation can either support or cause harm. It is rarely neutral. When language occurs in the workplace, it can impact - for better or worse - the psychological safety of an environment.

Most likely, the earliest place a caregiver can encounter discrimination is in the stage of employment opportunity/access.

In interviews - and auditions - there are clear guidelines and standards for legal and ethical hiring practices.

In sum: you cannot discriminate against someone for work because of family responsibilities.

More deeply, the following guidelines have been crafted exclusively for this handbook for your use in training staff on developing interview questions and what can and cannot be said in the interview process. Continue reading into the next session for these training guides to prevent Family Rights Discrimination in your interview practices.


NOTE: Legal and Ethical Hiring/Firing Practices must be void of all illegal and unethical discriminatory practices, including race, gender, ability, and more.

It is important to recall, as presented in the introduction of this handbook, that all caregivers exist as dynamic human beings impacted by all intersectional potentials and power dynamics. Therefore, just removing one discrimination type from these practices is not enough. The guidelines provided in the next section of this handbook deal specifically with preventing caregiver discrimination, but if your staff needs comprehensive training to prevent breaking the law and prevent harm in all hiring/firing practices, contact us to book a hiring/firing compliance training session with our PAAL HR Professional:

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