Protecting Caregivers from Discrimination in the Workplace

Working caregivers, have you heard that tone of voice from your workplace manager? You know the one where it sounds like he’s perpetually disappointed in you? You’re not imagining it. It’s real, or so says a new report by AARP.

According to our report, a staggering 42 percent of U.S. workers provided unpaid eldercare in the past five years, while 49 percent expect to do so for a family member or friend in the coming five years. The average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends up to 20 hours a week providing unpaid care for a loved one. In 2009 dollars, monetary value of their unpaid contributions is $450 BILLION. (This exceeds the profits of either Exxon or WalMart.)

Related:  Afraid to Tell Your Boss You’re a Caregiver?

And this affects employers how? Well, today more than 40 million people, that’s one in every eight, are age 65 and older – which will balloon to 72 million by 2030. An aging workforce will likely care for their aging parents, who are living longer.

So what does this mean for employers who are woefully unprepared for this? It means change should start at the federal and state levels to help guide employers and their working caregivers. But let’s just focus on the states for now.

Only four states  – Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey and Oregon, plus the District of Columbia  – have laws that protect family caregivers that exceed federal protections. The report says additions to workplace discrimination laws are needed to help family caregivers. Just what changes can states make?

  1. Add the term “family caregiver status” to the list of characteristics upon which employers are prohibited from basing decisions under state employment law.
  2. Define the term “family caregiver” for the purposes of employment antidiscrimination protections as “a person who cares for a family member”
  3. Define “family member” as a “person who is related by blood, legal custody or marriage, a domestic partner, or a person with whom the caregiver lives in a familial relationship”
  4. Ensure that anti-retaliation provisions that discrimination complaints apply to family caregivers as well.

That’s asking a lot! OK, but what can employers do? The report suggests:

  1. Adopt a model policy for preventing Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD)
  2. Provide workplace flexibility (flextime, teleworking, compressed workweeks, etc.)
  3. Establish effective and predictable scheduling for hourly employees
  4. Develop and provide education and training to supervisors/managers
  5. Offer eldercare support resources and referral services to employees
  6. Add hiring practices for people with eldercare responsibilities.

Studies have shown that working caregivers, while some might have odd hours, are more loyal to an employer who is flexible to their needs. Change like this isn’t easy or fast, of course. But it is sensible. Who knows, one day these employers might find themselves in a caregiving situation  and understand what we caregivers go through each day.

The report reviews the most horrific of caregiver discrimination lawsuits, (start on Page 6) which I won’t go into, but check them out.

What about you? Does your employer or state allow flexible schedules for working caregivers? Check out the report and fact sheet yourself.  And if you’re currently a caregiver, check out the AARP Caregivers Resource Center.