Even as the numbers of those providing care to elderly family members or loved ones continues to grow, so does a troubling trend of workplace discrimination among this population, says AARP in a new report highlighting the issues affecting working caregivers.
“Workplace discrimination against family caregivers is growing more commonplace and more problematic as baby boomers age and combine work in the paid labor force and unpaid work as caregivers for their parents,” said Susan Reinhard, AARP Senior Vice President and Director of the AARP Public Policy Institute. “It may take the form of limited flexibility, denied leave, or even a pink slip, but whatever the case, more instances of employers treating employees with caregiving responsibilities less favorably than other employees are coming to our attention.”
Caring for older relatives or friends has become the “new normal,” according to the report, as more than four out of ten U.S. workers have providing unpaid eldercare in the past five years. Just under half, at 49%, expect they will provide care for an aging family member or friend in the coming five years.
As caregiver data has been collected, a composite portrait has emerged, of a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends the equivalent of an additional half-time job—nearly 20 hours a week—providing care for her mother.
In 2009, unpaid caregivers similar to the average one described above provided approximately $450 billion worth of care, according to an earlier AARP report.
Despite the immense value of care this population provides, there are no federal laws that explicitly prohibit family responsibilities discrimination, or discrimination on the basis of caregiver status, says Joan Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, and lead author of the August report.
On a state level, protections are also limited, according to the report. Only four states—Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Oregon—along with the District of Columbia have enacted laws providing explicit protections to family caregivers going beyond federal law protections.
The report recommends amended, consistent state statutes that address FRD by filling the gaps in legal protections.
The trend toward more American families experiencing the “new normal” of working and eldercare underscores the need to develop public and private solutions to both help workplaces adapt and support caregiving families,” write Williams et al. “Such solutions should ensure that working family caregivers with eldercare responsibilities receive equal opportunity in the workplace and are protected from employment discrimination.”
Read the AARP Insight on the Issue report.
Written by Alyssa Gerace