Ann Knuckles Mahoney, Associate in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s Nashville office, was quoted in Law360 Employment Authority, in “Caregiver Protections Gain Steam as Moms' Pay Gap Persists,” by Anne Cullen. (Read the full version – subscription required.)

Following is an excerpt:

Tuesday marked Moms' Equal Pay Day, the point to which the average mother must work to earn what the average dad took home the previous year. Experts say that disparity stems in part from caregiver bias — an area where policymakers are stepping up to address a lack of explicit federal protections.

Caregiver discrimination broadly can affect anyone with care responsibilities, parents as well as those responsible for the care of disabled or elderly family members. However, employment experts said women, especially mothers, often take the brunt of it. …

'Proximity Bias' Plays A Role

Aside from overt discrimination, employment law experts said there are several ways in which mothers are facing bias at work that might be flying under the radar, including managers showing a preference for onsite employees, known as "proximity bias."

"With the growth of hybrid working arrangements, mothers are particularly susceptible to proximity bias," said Epstein Becker Green attorney Ann Knuckles Mahoney, who advises employers.

Studies have found that women are more likely to telework than men; data released in June by the BLS showed that women were more likely than men to do some or all of their work at home in 2022.

Of the nearly 50 million women with a full- or part-time job who worked on an average day last year, more than 40% — about 20.5 million employees — logged remote hours, the BLS found. For men, the figure is 28%, equating to about 17.5 million workers of the 62 million who worked an average day in 2022, according to the bureau.

Experts said the trend holds true for women with children, so proximity bias can exacerbate existing disparities when it comes to advancement opportunities and salaries offered to mothers versus fathers.

"Now that remote work is more common, many women are choosing to work remotely upon their return to work to facilitate their transition back to work and allow them to continue breastfeeding their children without the hassles of pumping at work," Knuckles Mahoney said. "While this flexibility is great for mothers in some ways, it can subject them to not being front and center of their manager's mind when it comes to job opportunities as well as positive performance rankings." …

Bias From Imagined Benevolence

Another element of the motherhood penalty that can manifest more subtly is "benevolent sexism," in which managers think they're helping the mothers in their organization by, for example, passing them over for a business trip or offering overtime opportunities elsewhere.

"Unfortunately, many employers falter when they take well-intentioned actions that ultimately hinder the career advancement opportunities of mothers," said Epstein Becker's Knuckles Mahoney.

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