My sisters and I are long-distance caregivers for our 92-year old mom. We have already experienced this profound caregiving journey, having cared for our dad for nearly seven years before he died at age 94. We know how overwhelming and stressful it can be to juggle work and caregiving responsibilities.
But my sisters and I are far from alone. Many of my work friends and colleagues are family caregivers too. Nearly two out of three (62%) workers aged 45 to 74-years-old currently have caregiving responsibilities for an aging or other adult relative. About one in five (20%) expect to take time off from their job in the next five years because of caregiving responsibilities.
Because I work for an organization that provides paid family leave benefits for working caregivers, and in a jurisdiction (the District of Columbia) that has a broad definition of family and requires employers to offer paid sick days as an employment benefit, I don’t have to worry about jeopardizing my job or losing a paycheck when I need to take time away from work to be there for my mom. Substantial numbers of working caregivers aren’t so lucky.
A recent AARP Public Policy Institute report shows that workplace leave policies have not kept up with the times. These policies are not available to all workers in all work settings. Middle and low-income workers, who struggle day-to-day to make ends meet and who need these workplace leave benefits the most, are the least likely to have them.
It’s been 20 years since the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted; the first national law to help workers meet the dual demands of employment and family care. The FMLA gives eligible workers the right to job-protected, unpaid time off for a worker’s own health needs or to care for certain family members (child, spouse, or parent).
But what if you work for a small nonprofit or a business with fewer than 50 employees? Or, what if you are caring for a domestic partner, your brother, your grandmother, or your in-laws? If that’s the case, you are not covered under the FMLA, along with about 40% of the workforce. Even for employees who are covered by the FMLA, the law does not mandate paid leave for family or medical reasons.
Research shows that workplace leave policies are good for business and can improve productivity and reduce worker turnover. It’s time to update our “family-friendly” leave policies to better help today’s workplaces adapt to 21st-century workforce needs and support caregiving families. As our population ages, this is a problem worth solving for ourselves, our families and our employers.
Lynn Friss FeinbergLynn Friss Feinberg, MSW, 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 services and supports issues for more than 30 years.