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An AARP report highlighting issues affecting working caregivers of older adults identified discrimination in the workplace encountered by workers with eldercare responsibilities is an emerging trend.

The report, Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination highlights the limited legal protections for working caregivers. The report was produced by the AARP Public Policy Institute.

“Workplace discrimination against family caregivers is growing more commonplace and more problematic as baby boomers age and combine work in the paid labor force and unpaid work as caregivers for their parents,” said Susan Reinhard, AARP Senior Vice President and Director of the AARP Public Policy Institute. “It may take the form of limited flexibility, denied leave, or even a pink slip, but whatever the case, more instances of employers treating employees with caregiving responsibilities less favorably than other employees are coming to our attention.”

“Discrimination against caregivers, known as ‘family responsibilities discrimination,’ occurs in all states and across a broad spectrum of occupations, but no federal law explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of caregiver status,” said Joan C. Williams, Director of the Center for WorkLife Law, University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and the lead author of the report.

Very limited federal protection comes from the Family and Medical Leave Act, the American’s with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and ERISA, The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which were all written into law to protect against other forms of discrimination. From 1989 to 2008, a period during which employment discrimination lawsuits declined, lawsuits for family responsibilities discrimination increased from 444 cases to 2,207. An analysis of 204 eldercare cases found that only 23 cases were filed before 2000; 181 cases were filed between 2000 and 2009.

Still, the report argues, caring for an older relative or friend is now the “new normal.” About 42 percent of U.S. workers have provided unpaid eldercare in the past five years and just under half (49 percent) of the workforce expects to provide eldercare for a family member or friend in the coming five years. The average family caregiver in the U.S. is a 49-year old woman who works outside the home and spends the equivalent of an additional half-time job (nearly 20 hours a week) providing care for her mother. Valued in 2009 dollars, the care she and her peers provide is worth $450 billion according to an earlier AARP report.

In addition to explaining the limits of federal protections, the report notes that protections under state law are also severely limited. Local laws are the most common form of employment protection for working Americans caring for older adults, the report asserts, but only seven local ordinances have language that defines family responsibilities in ways that protect working caregivers with eldercare responsibilities. The report suggests legislative and policy approaches to extend legal protections against workplace discrimination to family caregivers for older loved ones. It also lists best practices for employers to remove barriers to equal employment opportunity for working caregivers.

“All workers, including those with eldercare responsibilities, deserve to be protected from arbitrary discrimination in employment,” said Reinhard. “The ability of workers to balance work and family responsibilities is central to quality of life and keeping working caregivers on the job – both as caregivers to their older family member and in the paid labor force – is critically important to the economy, business and families.”

Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination includes charts describing the federal state and local laws protecting caregivers in detail. It was produced with support of the SCAN Foundation and The Commonwealth Fund and co-authored by experts from the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and the AARP Public Policy Institute.

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