TLDR; Family caregivers make up a large part of the workforce and must balance the demands of their job and their family members. Fortunately, there are laws in place to prevent discrimination and steps employers can take to provide support.
While working takes up the majority of our days, many people care for a family member with disabilities in addition to supporting themselves.
In fact, according to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 study update done by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than 1 in 5 people care for a child or adult with special needs. About 1 in 4 people are caring for more than one person by themselves.
That means over 53 million people in the country are unpaid caregivers, and almost two-thirds of them also have to earn a living. Because almost half of these caregivers are also over 50 years old, they face their own health challenges along with those of the person they care for.
To accommodate their family’s needs, many caregivers—about 69%—need some flexibility in their work schedule. Unfortunately, they may feel hesitant to ask their employer for help out of fear of losing their job or being treated unfairly.
In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, we will highlight the laws that protect caregivers in the workplace and discuss ways employers can help.
In 1997, President Clinton signed a proclamation designating November as the month to recognize the work of family caregivers. Every president since then has signed a proclamation each year to continue the tradition.
More recently, President Biden signed a proclamation that outlined the importance of family caregivers and the steps his administration has taken to support them.
“Our American Rescue Plan provided $145 million to help the National Family Caregiver Support Program deliver counseling, training, and short-term relief to family and other informal care providers. We have expanded the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers so more veteran caregivers have the financial and mental health support they deserve, and we helped launch the “Hidden Helpers” initiative to serve the 2.3 million children now living with a disabled veteran.”
If they do, it’s illegal, and employers who discriminate could face legal charges. Under Title 1 of the ADA, an association provision prohibits discrimination towards employees without disabilities who associate with people who have disabilities. This includes family members and unrelated people (eg. someone who regularly works at a community center that serves people with disabilities).
The nature of the relationship between a caregiver and a person with disabilities doesn’t matter. This provision focuses on preventing employers from doing the following to a caregiver:
No. Since they don’t have disabilities, they aren’t eligible for reasonable accommodations as specified in the ADA.
For example, if someone needs extra time off to care for a child with disabilities, an employer doesn’t have to change their time off policies. But they also can’t treat the employee any differently while handling the request.
Many employers work with caregivers to find a solution to their needs because they recognize the importance of employee retention and workplace morale. Considering at least 34% of caregivers quit their jobs due to an inflexible schedule, finding a suitable alternative is mutually beneficial to both employer and employee.
Besides the ADA, there are various federal and state laws that enable caregivers to take extra time off or adjust their work schedule. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law, applies to companies with 50 or more employees. It states that employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in one year for specific medical circumstances affecting the employee or a family member. This includes caring for a spouse or child with a serious health condition.
Individual states have also established laws that provide job-protected leave and other benefits for caregivers who may not qualify for the FMLA. You can check with your state department of labor to find out more details.
If you are wondering what qualifies as illegal, discriminatory treatment towards caregivers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a detailed description.
In the American Journal of Health, research showed that if employers and states support caregivers with community resources, flexible hours, and paid time off, productivity would increase, and the overall economy would drastically improve.
Here are a few things employers can do:
A growing number of unpaid caregivers in today’s workforce necessitates a certain degree of flexibility at their jobs. Knowing their rights is critical for both employees and employers. If each knows what they are and aren’t legally required to do, they can work together effectively.
While some employers may initially view a caregiver as a possible liability, many find that a little communication and cooperation goes a long way towards a healthy, happy workplace.