Thursday, February 14, 2019

Companies expand family leave to include elder caregiving

Leslie Tracy holds a photo of her mother.
Leslie Tracy wanted to be able to help when her mother took a turn for the worse in her battle with ovarian cancer last spring. Employed as a graphic design and production assistant at the biotech manufacturer Promega, Leslie looked into the company’s new policy for family caregivers and found she could take two weeks’ worth of paid leave as needed over several months.

It made a huge difference. Leslie, 32, was able to spend time in the hospital and at home when her mom was the sickest and be with her during the last moments of her life. And when she was at work, Leslie was able to concentrate more.

“It was just easier for me to get through my day knowing that if I had to leave for an afternoon, I didn’t have to pick up and start working again at 9 p.m.,” Leslie said. “I was able to just go and do what I needed to do at home, and then I could pick back up the next day or in a few days when I came back to work.”

That “soft” return on investment factored into Promega’s decision on family leave, said benefits manager Diana Clark. The company believes that offering paid leave for employees who need it – over and above parental leave – will reduce stress, improve productivity and result in a healthier and happier workforce, she said.

A small but growing number of companies agree. In 2017, only two of the nearly 60 companies surveyed by the advocacy group PL+US confirmed that they offered benefits for non-parental family caregivers. Last year, the same survey found that 10 companies offered such benefits.

The increase reflects growing awareness by companies, employees, and investors that workers need and want family leave beyond caring for newborns. More than eight in 10 employers recently told the Northeast Business Group on Health that they expect caregiving to become an increasingly important issue over the next five years.

“We’ve seen a tectonic shift in the private sector and from individual employers moving on family leave,” says Annie Sartor, directory of advocacy at PL+US. Companies are recognizing that “more people may need time to care for a seriously ill family member than to bond with a newly arrived child.”

Corporate policies

The structure of paid leave varies. The accounting firm Deloitte offers 16 weeks of fully paid leave to workers, while most companies’ offerings range from one to four weeks, according to the PL+US report. Of the 10 companies providing paid leave to caregivers, eight make no distinction between full time and part-time employees.

Deloitte expanded its paid family leave policy to include non-parents in September 2016, when management became worried that the challenges of caregiving were having a negative impact on its workforce, which spans five generations.

Since its implementation, more than 5,000 workers have taken advantage of the program, Carolyn O’Boyle, leader of Deloitte’s Talent Strategy & Innovation team, said last July during a congressional hearing on paid family leave. O’Boyle said that the cost of the program was lower than projected because the company was able to temporarily backfill employees with other team members.

“This expanded leave program has had a profound impact on our people, and the realized benefits have far outstripped concerns about operational disruption,” O’Boyle said.

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Meyers Squibb in March announced it was broadening its paid family leave program, offering eight weeks of paid leave to not only new parents, but also to all types of caregivers and family members of all ages.

“We realize that our employees can work best when they feel their responsibilities at home and at work are being supported,” Chief Human Resource Officer Ann Powell Judge said in a statement.

Paid family leave ranked as the most desired work perk among employees polled by benefits provider Unum in August, with nearly six in 10 saying that they wanted the benefit. Still, there were many more companies, including CVS, Lowe’s and Dollar General, that offered new parental leave policies last year without expanding that leave to those caring for non-newborn family members.

“We know that the population is rapidly aging, the number of caregivers is shrinking, just because of demographics, but companies, by and large, just have not caught up,” says Vicky Shabo, a vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families. 

Currently, about 34 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older, according to a report from the National Alliance on Caregiving. As more women enter and stay in the workforce, there are fewer non-working family members who can take on that care. Meanwhile, six in 10 family caregivers are also employed, with an average 35-hour workweek, the report found.

Caregivers who leave the workforce, even for a brief period, can face financial ramifications for decades. Awareness of the monetary and psychological stress around caregiving may be why more than nine in 10 workers recently surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management said that the paid leave is important to their overall job satisfaction.

Yet companies that want to provide family leave for employees face hurdles. The policy potentially affects many more workers than maternity and paternity benefits do, making it much more expensive. For small businesses, the cost may be too much. Larger companies may need to be pushed into offering more leave.

Seeking government help

And that’s part of why there’s a parallel movement on the government side to pass policies that would provide a basic paid leave to caregivers. Seven states have some kind of paid caregiving leave policies, including Massachusetts, which acted this past summer. Four other states have bills in the works.

Federally, the current policy is the Family and Medical Leave Act. Passed in 1993, it mandates that large employers provide 12 weeks unpaid leave for workers who need to take time off to care for family members or recover from illness. The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t offer any paid leave.

“There’s just a recognition that all of these other countries have figured out how to do this,” says Jeff Hayes, program director, job quality and income security, at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Companies there are still running; they’re still considered competitors.”

The 2016 election was the first time that both major presidential candidates said that they’d support paid leave, according to Megan Sholar, a political science professor at Loyola University Chicago. The midterm election, which saw a record wave of women and younger candidates ascend to office, also may spur movement at the federal level. President Trump renewed some hope for legislation during his State of the Union speech this week when he said he supported a plan “for nationwide paid family leave so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.”

But some advocates say policy solutions should go further. Any new legislation must value all care, said Ellen Bravo, co-director of Family Values at Work.

“There will be pressure to accept something narrow and minimal just for parents, or six weeks for a lower rate of pay,” Bravo said. “That won’t help American families, and it won’t help the people who need it the most.”

Even in states with paid family leave regulations, many workers don’t know about them or don’t understand them, a recent AARP report found. Real solutions to the caregiving crisis will require not only new laws, but shifts in corporate culture that encourage caregivers to take leave, much like corporate culture is starting to support men taking paternity leave.

The fact that both the government and corporate America are starting to recognize the needs of non-newborn family caregivers could mark a tipping point, Bravo said.

“It’s just the beginning, but it’s a place to start,” Bravo says. “It’s been 25 years since we passed FMLA, and we should just pass paid leave. We can do it.”

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Companies expand family leave to include elder caregiving

1 comment:

StandUp said...

This has been needed for a while and I'm glad to see it getting underway. Hope it spreads!