The Discrimination Caregivers Can Face In The Workforce

Call it the elephant in the closet. Family caregivers in the workforce. Six in 10 caregivers are employed while caring for a loved one. Among them, 56 percent work full time.
02/19/2016 07:43 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Call it the elephant in the closet. Family caregivers in the workforce. Six in 10 caregivers are employed while caring for a loved one. Among them, 56 percent work full time. While people between the ages of 50 and 64 represent the largest age group of caregivers, millennials make up nearly a quarter of caregivers.

Nearly one in four (22 percent) middle-aged and older workers (ages 45 to 64) -- typically caring for a parent -- report being family caregivers.

The "MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs" estimated that the average additional health cost to employers is 8 percent more for those with eldercare responsibilities. This 8 percent differential is estimated as costing U.S. employers $13.4 billion per year. Lost productivity of employee caregivers to employers is as high as $34 billion.

Employees providing eldercare were more likely to report fair or poor health in general, more likely to report depression, diabetes, hypertension, or pulmonary disease regardless of age, gender, and work type.

Employed caregivers defer preventive health screenings and are more likely to report missed days of work. Younger caregivers (ages 18 to 39) demonstrated significantly higher rates of cholesterol, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, kidney disease, and heart disease.

Discrimination

Caregivers are reluctant to self-identify for fear of repercussions. I could tell you that none of my healthcare clients would have a clue as to how many family caregivers were in the workforce. Yet discrimination is real.

Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD), also called caregiver discrimination, is employment discrimination against workers based on their family caregiving responsibilities. Pregnant women, mothers and fathers of young children, and employees with aging parents or sick spouses or partners may encounter FRD. They may be rejected for hire, passed over for promotion, demoted, harassed, or terminated -- despite good performance -- simply because their employers make personnel decisions based on stereotypical notions of how they will or should act given their family responsibilities.

  • An employee is fired when he asks for leave to care for his chronically ill father.
  • After being told that his employer has "paid enough" for his ailing wife already, an employee is terminated when he refuses to take his wife off of the employer's insurance plan.
  • An employee is denied leave when her employer asserts that it is not her responsibility to care for her ailing mother as long as her father is still alive.
  • An employee is called lazy and then fired after taking leave to care for his mother, who is near death.

Addressing the Need

I work in healthcare addressing the experience of care. One of the things I stress to clients is that a great patient experience starts with a great employee experience. Happy employees stay with the company, are more productive and motivated and create better experiences.

Instead of employees being afraid to come forward, employers need to embrace them.

They could start by finding out about ReACT (RespectACaregiver'sTime), an employer-focused coalition dedicated to addressing the challenges faced by employee caregivers and reducing the impact on the companies that employ them. ReACT represents nearly 1 million employees through its membership of more than 30 companies and non-profit organizations. If you are serious about the issues of caregiving in the workplace consider joining the coalition.

It Starts with Culture

Organizations need to build a supportive culture for caregivers who fear being stigmatized and ostracized by acknowledging their family caregiver role. Twenty-eight percent of those caring for someone report their employers are unaware of their caregiving. Cultures that succeed have top leaders heading the charge and talking about the issues.

Surprisingly, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), there has been a steady decrease in the proportion of US employers with eldercare programs.

Innovative Program Supports Caregivers Through Video

I have developed a resource for caregivers, a 30-Day Video Caregiver Support Program. Each day family caregivers receive an inspiring video that covers one aspect of caregiving. There is a story, a moral, and a key takeaway that they can apply that day to make their life a little bit easier as a caregiver. The Program helps turn caregiving from a potentially burdensome experience to a joyful opportunity, one where you don't just survive but thrive. View the first three videos.

What to Do if You Feel Discriminated Against

The Center for WorkLife Law has this to say:

The answer necessarily depends on the facts of the situation, the nature of the employer's organization, and the personalities involved, so it is not possible to give a one-size-fits-all answer.

As a general rule, however, a good first step is to make sure that the employee understands the facts correctly and then, if the employee thinks it is appropriate, to ask his or her supervisor why the action that seems discriminatory was taken. The question shouldn't be accusatory or threatening, but just a request for information.

A good second step may be to raise concerns with the employer's HR department. Other possible steps include calling or emailing the WorkLife Law hotline, contacting an employment attorney, and contacting a local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a state agency that addresses equal employment opportunity issues.

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