August 18, 2017

Employment at Risk: The Eldercare Dilemma

by Melanie Hankinson, IKOR of Columbus

Today, more than 40 million unpaid caregivers are providing care to an elderly loved one. In a recent study, AARP found the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman, working outside the home and provides nearly 20 hours of care each week.

While many workers will face work-family conflict at some point, those with eldercare responsibilities find their caregiving tasks to be more challenging than those who only have childcare responsibilities. Unlike childcare, the onset of eldercare responsibilities can arise gradually from chronic, degenerative conditions, or abruptly as a result of an accident or acute health crisis.

Adding to the stress of caring for an aging parent, workers providing eldercare often navigate complex emotions during the caregiving period. One of the most stressful situations family caregivers can end up in is when the parent they are caring for becomes incapacitated and important health decisions must be made on that individual’s behalf. When several siblings are involved in their parent’s care, this situation can easily lead to family conflict. It’s unsurprising that workers who provide eldercare report they rarely or never feel that their work and family responsibilities are aligned. As America’s population ages and more women participate in the workforce past 55 years of age, family caregiving concerns will have an increasing impact for both employees and employers.

There is no single statute that protects the rights of workers with eldercare responsibilities. Rather, a patchwork of laws exist which create obligations for employers and provides protections to employees. These laws are the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), protecting both men and women who need to take leave from work to provide care for a family member; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), preventing discrimination against those who provide care for a disabled family member; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), protecting workers 40 years and older and can be applied to those with caregiver responsibilities. Finally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes; meaning a male employee cannot be denied leave to provide care to an aging parent because it is something a woman should do. While there is no state equivalent of the FMLA in Ohio, the Ohio Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the provision of leave to employees who fall into certain protected categories.

MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving has estimated U.S. companies lose $31 billion a year to lost productivity. Some employers have started a caregiver program, which includes benefits like flex time hours, job sharing, telecommunicating or the use of a professional geriatric care manager. The professional care manager can meet with aging parent(s) and their families to assess needs, create a care plan and walk the caregiver through options for services that could help ease some of the burden.

Employers can contact Columbus companies like IKOR (ikorglobal.com/nw-columbus) for professional geriatric Care Management services or a knowledgeable eldercare law attorney (http://directory.cbalaw.org/c/elder-law); these benefits may have upfront costs but may also see a return to the bottom line.