I must confess that I did not watch last night’s State of the Union as I was stuck at the office working on a brief. I have had time since to sift through the speech and have tried to distill out the employment-related issues. If you also missed it or just want to relive it, you can find the full transcript here.
So, what does the speech signal? The short answer is more of the same.
President Obama did talk at length about the economy and how to strengthen the middle class. He specifically called for higher wages, paid sick leave, and stronger unions. Of course, the State of the Union is really just the President’s opportunity to present his “dream list” of initiatives. Whether there is legislative movement on any of these initiatives is a wholly different story. However, this State of the Union may signal certain enforcement efforts of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
As part of Mr. Obama’s agenda, he mentioned that we needed to think of child care issue as a national issue and not a “women’s issue.” Some employers may remember that the EEOC has issued guidance on discrimination against individuals with caregiver responsibilities. Although having “caregiver” responsibilities does not make a person a member of a protected class, the EEOC notes that what really may be at the heart of mistreatment of people with caregiving responsibilities is gender discrimination.
Mr. Obama’s speech may not have been intended to forebode a shift in enforcement priorities; indeed, he mentioned childcare in the context of making it more affordable. However, it is certainly true that the President can influence enforcement efforts. Indeed, under the Obama Administration, the EEOC has repeatedly focused on gender discrimination issues such as Equal Pay. As the EEOC continues to focus on these issues and test the limits of Title VII (see for example the recent lawsuits involving transgender employees), it is possible that we see more scrutiny of treatment of women with childcare responsibilities.