Caring for an elderly loved one is becoming the new norm as the Baby Boomer generation increasingly finds itself sandwiched between aging parents and their own children. More and more, American workers are finding themselves juggling the challenges of caring for an elderly parent with trying to maintain a full-time career. It’s a situation that requires employer flexibility, but workers are finding that many companies aren’t willing to be flexible with hours and scheduling to accommodate the needs of caregivers.
The AARP Public Policy Institute issued a report last week, titled “Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination” designed to address the increasing issues faced by caregivers struggling to continue working. Created with support from The SCAN Foundation and The Commonwealth Fund, the report takes an in-depth look at the current landscape of Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD) and the future outlook as the number of individuals working while taking on the responsibilities of caring for an aging loved one will continue to rise.
What is Family Responsibilities Discrimination?
FRD occurs when an employer treats an employee less favorably than others based on the perception that caregiving responsibilities lead to decreased productivity and lower commitment to the job. Circumstances such as denying an employee leave to take care of an ailing parent or spouse, making inappropriate comments regarding whether it’s the employee’s responsibility to care for the individual in question or being fired for asking for time off or leave to take care of a loved one’s needs are all classified as FRD.
Current policies fail to offer adequate protection
Most states, and even federal laws, don’t specifically prohibit FRD. The caregiving population isn’t even classified as a protected group, like minorities are. Therefore, it’s challenging to bring discrimination allegations against an employer without working the circumstances into an existing law, such as sexual harassment. And for many working caregivers, simply leaving the workforce isn’t an option, as most families are dependent on dual incomes. In spite of the dual-income family being the norm for several decades, most workplaces are still based on the presumption that families have someone at home to care for young children or aging parents.
Current protections fall under a number of laws, including:
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Rehabilitation Act
- Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)
Only four states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that prevent caregiver discrimination:
- New Jersey
- Washington, D.C.
However, only Connecticut and D.C. have statutes that include eldercare. Specifically, they protect workers with “family responsibilities” from discrimination, language which can be construed to include eldercare. The other three states offer protections for childcare, but not eldercare.
The AARP Public Policy Institute offers recommendations for including protections for caregivers at both the state and federal levels, and also offers guidance for employers to create workplace policies that will better suit the needs of working caregivers. Suggestions include offering training to supervisors and managers to educate them on the needs of the caregiving population, being flexible and offering eldercare support and resources to employees.