Juggling work and family caregiving responsibilities is stressful, even overwhelming, because most workplaces aren’t “caregiver friendly.” I hear this all the time from my friends and colleagues who care for aging parents.
Public policies can help working caregivers better manage their responsibilities so that they don’t have to choose between work and family caregiving. One way states can help is by providing legal protections from employment discrimination due to caregiving status. States can also expand access to paid sick days and family and medical leave benefits to permit time off to care for ill family members or for a worker’s own serious health condition.
The problem is huge. Nearly two out of three workers ages 45 to 74 provide care for a spouse or partner, aging parent, or another relative or friend. These working family caregivers represent 17 percent of the U.S. labor force – and as our population ages, the need for more supportive workplaces will grow even larger.
There is good news. Many states and localities are stepping up to the plate to enact stronger legal protections to help working caregivers manage their jobs and care for older adults with long-term services and supports (LTSS) needs. The AARP Public Policy Institute’s recently released 2014 LTSS Scorecard showed substantial change since the 2011 Scorecard in the legal protections that provide important benefits to help working caregivers maintain their jobs, health and financial security.
For example, Rhode Island has joined California and New Jersey in offering paid family and medical leave. These three states fund their programs through employee-paid payroll taxes and administer benefits through their respective disability insurance programs.
A number of cities and states are also moving to mandate paid sick days. Having this legal protection enables workers to take days off if they are ill, or to use sick days to take family members to medical appointments. Localities that have enacted laws (since the last Scorecard) requiring employers to provide paid sick days include Jersey City, New York, Seattle and Portland, Ore.
Connecticut now requires most employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid sick days to eligible workers. Workers caring for their parents are not covered under this law, however. Connecticut law also includes antidiscrimination provisions prohibiting employers from asking workers about their familial responsibilities.
Today marks the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families. This summit will highlight public- and private-sector options to create a better workplace for all Americans, including workers with eldercare responsibilities.
These steps mark only the beginning of a more far-reaching national recognition of family caregivers in the workplace that must take place.
Lynn Friss Feinberg is a senior strategic policy adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute. She has conducted policy analysis and applied research on family caregiving and long-term care issues for more than 30 years.