Earlier today, Anne Fisher of Fortune magazine published a brilliant article highlighting the struggles of family caregivers trying to succeed in their career and still take care of their elderly parents, friends, etc. (Can you care for an elderly parent and still succeed at work?). Fisher’s article reveals the fact that as the U.S. population grows older, elder care is becoming as big a challenge as childcare…but many employers are still ignoring it. Importantly, her article reveals the alarming statistics involving family caregivers and their issues with employers and future career success:
“To put your predicament in perspective, a few statistics: about 40 million Americans, most aged 40 to 59, now are helping at least one elderly parent with the tasks of daily living, says a Pew Research study, and, although most caregivers are women, about 45% are men. Moreover, AARP research says most caregivers have jobs, but 70% are obliged to “make workplace adjustments”—coming in late or leaving early, for instance.
Yet it seems many employers haven’t caught on. Consider: a scant 5% offers a referral service to employees looking for elder care resources, according to the 2014 Employee Benefits Survey from the Society for Human Resources Management. Fewer than 1% offers benefits like geriatric counseling or backup elder care services for emergencies.”
Undoubtedly, there are a few of you that are currently facing this situation, or will most likely be facing it in the near future. Either way, it is important to note that you do have a few legal rights in this area, although the legislatures have yet to enact full, complete protections for family caregivers who are pursuing their own careers and caring for an elderly adult.
The most clear and obvious legal protection for family caregivers arises from the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as well as the comparative state laws as well. The FMLA and its state counterparts require employers to keep your job open for you if you take an unpaid leave of absence to deal with family issues. In some instances, the time off can be intermittent, rather than continual, and in increments as small as 15 minutes. However, in regard to the FMLA, the employee must be employed with the company for at least 12 months prior to becoming eligible for leave under the FMLA. Additionally, you may take 12 weeks of leave during any 12 month period to care for a family member, but you only have the right to take leave to care for someone who is a biological or adoptive parent, or who acted as your parent when you were a child. So, for example, you cannot take FMLA leave for your mother-in-law unless your relationship with your mother-in-law goes back that far, or you live in a state with a law that covers care for in-laws.
Next, a few cities, including Milwaukee, Tampa, Washington D.C., and Atlanta, have passed local statutes prohibiting “family responsibility discrimination.” Since most caregivers are female, the Equal Opportunity Commission and the courts have also found that some federal and state laws against sex bias apply in these matters.
Finally, family caregivers may be covered by the ever-evolving federal and state employment and labor laws. Generally, under these laws and regulations, employers may not discriminate against or treat employees different from other employees in the company. These laws have historically been enacted for the protection of women and minorities in the workplace, but in recent years, they have been expanded to recognize other “groups” of employees, such as nursing mothers and family caregivers (Is there a legal case for work-life balance?). Employees should also take a close look at their company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see if there are available elder care resources. Some EAPs can connect family caregivers with local government agencies and nonprofits that offer elder care information and support, or with organizations like the National Alliance for Caregiving or the Family Caregiver Alliance.
So, as discussed above, a family caregiver does have some, but not complete, protection from disparate treatment from their employers. It is likely that within the next few years lawmakers will expand existing laws, as well as adopt new ones, in order to provide for the growing population of adult caregivers with careers. Until that time occurs, please be aware of your legal rights as a family caregiver and that you can still pursue your career goals while providing the proper attention to your family and friends.