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According to a new report by the AARP*, approximately 42% of American workers were also caring for an older family members—with 49% expecting to take on such care within five years. Most caregivers work outside the home—and spend as much as twenty hours per week providing care.
With so many people providing that much uncompensated elder care while also working, it’s no wonder that the needs of caregiving clash with those of the workplace. Discrimination against caregivers is a real phenomenon—and it’s growing, with an increase of 400% in the number of complaints in the past ten years. However, laws to protect caregivers in the workplace tend to be weak. Only New Jersey, Oregon, Alaska, and Connecticut have anti-discrimination laws on the books that are more powerful than federal laws already in place.
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It’s not easy both working full-time and caring for an elderly friend or family member. However, many Americans are in this position—and many more are likely to be in the coming decades.
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In reality, discrimination laws protecting caregivers are found under a mosaic of anti-discrimination laws—including Title VII, which protects against sex discrimination in the workplace; the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Under law, almost everyone is entitled to up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year in which to care for either themselves or family members.
However, many employees feel pressured not to take this time off. Sometimes the pressure can be subtle, the result of a larger unspoken culture that discourages it. And sometimes it can be more overt.
Your Human Resources department can be a good resource for you if you’re experiencing friction at work because of the demands of your caretaker role at home. Sometimes, just bringing up your concerns can be enough to make your employer aware and for action to be taken. Many people are reluctant to do this, however, because of fear of a negative impact on their job—but it’s against the law for employers to retaliate against employees simply for voicing their concerns.
Workplace discrimination against caregivers can take many forms—and can include being fired or having hours decreased for asking for leave; being fired or having hours decreased immediately after returning from leave; or being denied leave completely. And it’s possible your employer could be strongly or overtly discouraging you from taking the time you need to care for a family member. This pressure can take the form of reprimands, retaliatory assignments, lack of promotion, or even overt or covert threats. If this is the case—and if going to HR either did not resolve the issue or made it worse—going to a lawyer may be your best option.
It’s not easy both working full-time and caring for an elderly friend or family member. However, many Americans are in this position—and many more are likely to be in the coming decades. Hopefully, attitudes in the workplace will shift to keep up with the reality of the times—and allow workers to more easily balance family and workplace demands.