Employers Can Help Employees…and Help Themselves When it Comes to Eldercare! — Part 5

by Kevin K. Johnson, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®

Part 5: Best Practices for Removing Barriers to Equal Employment Opportunity for Working Caregivers

Our fifth and final post in this important series focuses on best practices that employers can utilize to minimize their legal liability. It is my hope that presenting this information in a multi-part series assists employers to better understand these issues and their associated liability. Further, it is my hope that employers take action to improve their workplace by adopting practices that minimize their susceptibility to lost productivity from working caregivers.

In addition to public policy solutions, employers can provide equal employment opportunity for employees with family responsibilities by adopting six key practices.

1) Adopt a model policy for preventing FRD.

A model policy for preventing FRD is a crucial first step. Adopting this policy—and incorporating it in the employer’s iStock_000014696872XSmall_PMpersonnel manual—can send a clear message that employees with family responsibilities, including eldercare, should be judged on the basis of their job performance, rather than on outdated assumptions that they are not committed to their jobs.

2) Provide workplace flexibility.

Workplace flexibility differs from FRD. FRD involves discrimination prohibited by public policy—treating employees with caregiving responsibilities less favorably than similarly situated employees due to unexamined assumptions that their family commitments mean that they are not committed to their jobs. Workplace flexibility refers to a panoply of alternative work arrangements commonly implemented by employers for business reasons. The following are the most common practices:

  • Flex-time allows employees to vary their starting and stopping times, typically with a core time span (often 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) when everyone must be at work.
  •  Compressed work weeks allow employees to work the same number of hours in fewer days a week; a typical schedule is four 10-hour days.

  •  Part-time and part-year work allows employees to work fewer hours than full-time or to work full-time for only part of the year.

  •  Telecommuting allows employees to work part or all of their work hours from home.

The business benefits of workplace flexibility are extensively documented.

Caregiving has economic consequences not only for the family caregiver but also for employers: There are costs to accommodating and supporting caregiving, but there are also costs to not accommodating and supporting it. A recent survey found that working caregivers of older adults are forced to miss an average of 6.6 days of work a year because of their eldercare responsibilities, and estimated that U.S. businesses lose up to $25 billion annually from full-time working caregivers due to absenteeism alone. Properly designed and implemented programs

  • Increase retention of valued employees
  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Tap the full talent pool, given that many employees have family responsibilities that make it difficult of impossible for them to work a traditional full-time schedule
  • Improve moral and employee engagement
  • Improve productivity
  • Reduce stress and burnout

3) Establish effective and predictable scheduling of hourly jobs.

Workplace flexibility was designed with professional jobs in mind. Hourly employees typically face very different issues, notably jobs with schedules that are both rigid and unstable. Rigid schedules, in which employees have to punch in and out, typically are accompanied by no-fault absenteeism policies that provide for termination of employees after a certain number of tardies and absences regardless of the reasons. Such systems may result in the firing of a worker who encounters a period of intense eldercare tasks, such as when a parent is hospitalized.

Low-wage workers often face a different problem: just-in-time schedules that change from day-to-day and week to week, often with very little advance notice, as employers attempt to maintain a tight fit between labor supply and labor demand. These types of schedules, even more than mandatory overtime, make it extremely difficult for families to arrange consistent eldercare.

Changes would be good for employers as well as employees. The business reasons for shifting to more effective scheduling techniques are much the same as those for adopting workplace flexibility. Just-in-time scheduling, in particular, leads to extraordinarily high, and extraordinarily expensive, rates of absenteeism and turnover.

4) Develop and provide education and training to supervisors and managers.

Unlike childcare issues, the challenges faced by workers juggling the demands of both work and caregiving for aging family members are not well understood and recognized by employers. Caregiving employees’ needs are not usually a “top of mind” issue for employers. Educating managers and supervisors about what constitutes caregiver discrimination, including eldercare, is a critical step forward. Another strategy might be to incorporate training about stereotypes and assumptions that underlie FRD into existing diversity training in the workplace.

5) Offer eldercare support, resources, and referral services to employees.

Caregiver-related information and resources for employees can help them better manage their caregiving responsibilities. Studies have shown benefits to employers with workplace eldercare programs, including worker retention, improved productivity, lower stress, and improved health among workers. Examples of such programs may include referral to caregiver resources in the community, on-site support groups for working caregivers, or discounted backup home care for emergency needs.

6) Implement recruitment practices for people with eldercare responsibilities.

Designing and implementing recruitment practices that target individuals with eldercare responsibilities who are looking to enter or return to the workplace is an innovative strategy to recruit skilled and talented workers. Some midlife and older individuals may quit their jobs to care for a parent, and then wish to return to work later on. People who disrupt their careers for full-time caregiving responsibilities can lose substantial benefits and retirement security. Such positions could be advertised in publications that target midlife, aging, and caregiving readers, websites, and senior employment job fairs, for example.

CONCLUSION

As both the workforce and the U.S. population age, the workplace will include more employees who need to combine eldercare responsibilities with the jobs upon which their economic futures depend. Given the prolonged economic downturn, it is important that family caregivers with eldercare responsibilities—especially midlife and older workers who are in their peak earning years—do not lose their jobs due to stereotypes and unfair treatment.

Recent research emphasizes the importance of legal system supports to family caregivers, including protection from FRD, in addition to caregiver supportive services (such as respite care). Both are fundamental elements of a high-performing Long-Term Services and Support (LTSS) system.

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. Such solutions should ensure that working family caregivers with eldercare responsibilities receive equal opportunity in the workplace and are protected from employment discrimination.

Thanks so much to AARP Public Policy Institute for outstanding research they performed to generate the information in this 5-part blog series.

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