Anthony Cirillo, a healthcare consultant in elder care, says companies are cutting back on family leave benefits as part of an overall reduction in all voluntary benefits. He says it is a financial decision and that employers, employed family caregivers and policymakers must find solutions to a burgeoning problem.
Nearly 18 million persons in the United States are family caregivers to relatives who are over 65 years of age, according to the 2016 report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). NASEM says that by 2030 almost 20% of the population will be 65 or more and many in their eighties and beyond. With a social ethic of families with fewer children, fewer marriages, more divorces and greater distance result in fewer caregivers for a greater demand.
About 50% of caregivers are employed full or part time. According to the NASEM report, almost 70% of them work 35 hours per week. 61% of them need some workplace accommodation, such as allowances for arriving at work late or leaving early, time off, or reduction in responsibilities. In many cases, employed family caregivers do not receive such accommodations. Family leave for caregivers is a benefit that few companies offer so caregivers need to be creative and proactive.
Employers also have legitimate concerns. Caregivers who reduce hours or are absent are costly to employers, and replacing employees is expensive. The NASEM report quotes estimates of costs to businesses reaching $30 billion per year in the United States. NASEM cautions that this number may not be accurate.
Until employers, family caregivers and policymakers ease the burdens of employed family caregivers, here are some steps family caregivers can take to lighten their loads.
What can working family caregivers do?
1. Urge workplace flexibility
Because employee retention and productivity are important to employers, there is evidence that flexible workplace policies aid in employee retention and reduced absenteeism. The NASEM report cites research supporting this.
The ReAct (Respect A Caregiver’s Time) report entitled Employer Resource Guide, quotes research concluding that workplace flexibility does not negatively impact a business. Even businesses with high employee turnover do not suffer unduly from implementing workplace flexibility, the report says.
2. Research national and state laws regarding family leave
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles persons with family medical situations to unpaid leave without threat of job loss. Many persons are unaware of their rights under this law.
Employed family caregivers may have even more rights under their respective state laws. Many states have their own family leave laws which are more inclusive than the FMLA.
The federal law on family leave has limitations. It only applies to employees of a government agency or a private business with more than 50 employees. Also, because the leave time is unpaid, workers can suffer some financial impact. The FMLA does not cover all caregiving relationships. Daughters-in-law, for example, are not covered under the FMLA, notwithstanding the care they give. The caregiver must be a spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child related to the person receiving care.
However, these laws can give family caregivers legal protection, and family caregivers should become aware of them.
3. Join or form a family caregiver support group
There is strength in numbers. Belonging to a support group can reassure working family caregivers that they are not alone. There may even be employed family caregivers at an individual’s workplace who are in the same situation.
4. Use alternative paid leave time
Most companies offer some paid time off (PTO). Vacation time, personal days, or sick days may be utilized for caregiving.
5. Plan ahead
Cirillo recommends family conversations about the care of aging relatives as soon as practicable. Early investment in long-term care insurance increases the chance that there will be enough money to cover caregiving costs.
There may come a time when society recognizes that working family caregivers carry much of the burden of caring for the elderly. Demand will compel solutions. Meanwhile, employed family caregivers can use this guidance to lessen some of their caregiving burdens.
Cirillo, Anthony. (February 7, 2017). Companies Cutting Back on Caregiver Benefits Does Not Bode Well Long Term. Huffington Post. Available online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-cirillo/companies-cutting-back-on_b_14578194.html. Accessed February 14, 2017.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Families caring for an aging America. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Doi: 10.17226/23606. Accessed February 14, 2017.
ReAct (Respect a Caregiver’s Time). Employer Resource Guide. AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. Available online at http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/caregiving/ReAct/employer-resource-guide.pdf. Accessed February 14, 2017.