Most adults will become family care givers at some point in their lives. In fact, an AARP study finds that nearly two-thirds of American workers between the ages of 45 and 74 have some care giving responsibilities for an adult relative. When it comes time to care for a parent, a sibling or a significant other, you may be prepared to drop everything. But that doesn’t mean it comes easy. You still have to deal with the challenges in your everyday life from doing your job and paying your bills to helping your kids with homework and getting the most out of your gym membership. Even when your whole world is changing, life goes on around you. Unfortunately, in most U.S. states, this means that your employers go on without you as well. The AARP reports that nearly half of those who have taken time off to attend care giving responsibilities experienced lost income as a direct result. But signs point to positive changes on the horizon. Some states are taking real steps that would require employers to improve their support of employees with care giver responsibilities. New laws signal a growing recognition of the challenges faced by family care givers as well as a regulatory push to help them meet these challenges.
State of Progress
- California and New Jersey: Some states already have laws on the books that provide paid leave for care giver responsibilities. California and New Jersey have uniquely structured laws that are designed to protect both the earnings and continued earning potential of family care givers. The new standards have introduced a template for improved state support of these critical healthcare system participants.
- Minnesota: An article in the Star Tribune reports that Minnesota also put such a law into action this past month, allowing workers in the state to use paid sick leave to care for a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent or step-parent. This is a significant addendum to a sick leave law that previously applied only to child- or self-care.
- Rhode Island: Rhode Island took a similar step in July of this year. The American Prospect reports that the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law will initiate in 2014 and will provide workers with up to four weeks of paid leave to care for an ailing relative of any age. The length of time is small but the implications are big. In addition to creating greater flexibility for workers dealing with the hardship of care giving, the law also ensures that those who do use this time will not be threatened with the loss of job or health coverage.
State of Resistance These state-by-state laws suggest that we are moving in a positive direction. However, broader adoption may be difficult to achieve. The article in the American Prospect warns that three of the four adopting states share the common trait of an inbuilt temporary disability insurance system designed to disburse payments to workers on leave. This means that for California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, the inclusion of family care givers was merely an expansion of an existing program. Of states that have not yet adopted such a law, only Hawaii and New York maintain similar disability insurance programs. Other states may find adoption difficult. For instance, Washington passed a law that would improve coverage and protection for workers on care giver leave but was never able to implement it. The state’s efforts are seen as a warning to other states that would have to build such an insurance program from the ground up. Adding to the difficulty of implementing this type of legislation is the resistance posed by corporate lobby groups who fear the regulations would be burdensome to businesses. Employers have also expressed concern that such laws are highly vulnerable to abuse.
Promise on the Horizon Rhode Island managed to overcome these objections by utilizing an employee-funded disability pool to draw pay for care givers on leave and by showing that assessments in California and New Jersey yielded very little evidence of employee abuses. Likewise, Minnesota has succeeded in the early going at enacting a family care giver paid leave law from the ground up. The hope is that Minnesota will be a positive model for other states who are beginning to explore this major step forward. The big prize, however, will be the adoption of meaningful federal laws providing paid leave for care givers of every kind. Caring for an aging family member is one of the hardest things you’ll have to do and nearly everybody will have to do it at some point. This means that family care givers are an invaluable part of the healthcare system. As we work so hard to improve this system on the whole, we need to include family care givers in our progress.