Why the Pandemic has Women Leaving the Work Force at Disproportionate Rates

Women are losing or quitting their jobs disproportionately as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the pandemic is throwing whole households into chaos, women are bearing the brunt of it, losing the most jobs.

Prior to the pandemic, women had achieved higher levels of employment and education than ever before. Despite this progress, women continue to shoulder most of household and familial duties. Critically, in consideration of the coronavirus pandemic, women are most likely to be the ones who care for sick or elderly family members. Although working mothers spend more time on work, household labor, and child care than fathers, they are not more likely to have access to family-friendly workplace policies such as paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, workplace flexibility, and affordable childcare.

The pandemic has greatly exacerbated the effects of this imbalance. In September, an astonishing 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce – four times more than men. If the pandemic leaves parents unable to send their children to school or childcare centers, women are more likely than men to take up responsibility for remote learning or child care, nearly three times more likely than men from a statistical standpoint. Additionally, because women are more likely to care for sick or elderly family members, going to work and possibly contracting COVID-19 puts these caretakers and their family members at even greater risk for harm.

The female pandemic exodus appears to have undermined over a generation’s worth of progress, as the share of women in the workforce is down to levels not seen since 1988. If employers do not allow women to work from home or have flexible schedules to accommodate child care and other responsibilities that have intensified due to the pandemic, women are faced with an impossible “choice”: to forego family responsibilities that they disproportionately bear, or quit their jobs entirely.

District of Columbia law protects individuals from discrimination based on sex or family responsibilities, while federal laws such as the Family & Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act may sometimes protect employees where an employer treats them adversely because of their need to care for a child or family member.   Montgomery County similarly protects against discrimination based on sex or family responsibilities, while Prince Georges County and Howard County have protections against sex discrimination and “familial status.”  The “Virginia Values Act” also contains important protections against discrimination on several bases.

Correia & Puth represents employees, not employers, with claims of discrimination, including claims of gender discrimination, family responsibilities discrimination, and discrimination on the basis of disability or caregiving.  If you have concerns about unfair workplace practices or discrimination, contact the lawyers at Correia & Puth, PLLC.