Think about how your company addresses — or maybe fails to address — the needs of caregivers, because almost everyone is going to be one someday.
“Almost everyone is going to be a caregiver at some point in his or her life, so employers need to recognize that and adapt.”
That quote is from an interview I did with Cynthia Thomas Calvert, senior adviser to the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law and author of a new report on caregivers in the workplace.
I’ll get to the report and its startling findings on discrimination against caregivers in a moment, but first consider the truth in her statement.
A caregiver can be someone tending to a sick child, a spouse or partner, or an aging parent. One way or another, and at some point in time, that will be most of us. The need to be there for others is part of being human, a fact employers should recognize and appreciate.
But they don’t, at least not always. And that’s where Calvert’s report comes in, firing a flare that should get the attention of companies everywhere.
Calvert found that over the last decade, the number of what are called “family responsibilities discrimination,” or FRD, cases increased 269 percent, resulting in nearly $500 million paid out in verdicts and settlements.
Per the report: “Employees win 67 percent of the FRD cases that go to trial — a far higher rate than other employment cases — and employees prevail in 52 percent of all FRD cases that are filed.”
“It looks like the employers are not understanding what family responsibility discrimination is and why they might be liable for it,” Calvert said. “So they’re not settling the meritorious cases the way they would if it was, say, a sex discrimination case. And another factor is that juries are returning most of these verdicts, and caring for a family member is pretty universal.”
The report says FRD — also called caregiver discrimination — occurs “when an employee suffers an adverse employment action based on unexamined biases about how workers with family caregiving responsibilities will or should act, without regard to the workers’ actual performance.”
It gives some examples: “A pregnant employee’s supervisor refuses to let her take a break as her doctor directed. A father who occasionally stays home with his sick child is excluded from meetings and punished for infractions other employees commit without consequences. A mother of young children isn’t considered for promotion. A male employee is fired when he asks for leave to take his elderly parents to the doctor.”
Some states and cities have laws that address discrimination based on family responsibilities, but there’s no federal statute, so these cases often rely on other state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
And the report predicts the number of these cases will continue to grow: “Several trends contribute to this conclusion: the prevalence of American households with all adults in the paid workforce; the projected increase in the number of people over the age of 65 who need care; the growing number of other family members who have disabilities; the number of men who are becoming caregivers; and the expectations of employees that working and providing family care should not be mutually exclusive.”
For those who might roll their eyes upon hearing the phrase “family responsibilities discrimination,” let’s look at other facts from the report:
—In 2014, 43.5 million adults provided unpaid care to an adult or a child with special needs.
—60 percent of those caregivers were employed.
—About 25 percent of them were millennials.
—40 percent of them were men.
—About half of all workers say they’ll have to provide elder care sometime in the next five years.
To repeat Calvert’s earlier comment, almost everyone is going to be a caregiver.
The evidence in the Center for WorkLife Law’s study suggests not only that companies are doing a poor job accommodating workers who are caregivers — thus the explosion in discrimination cases — but that the cases have merit, as juries are finding companies at fault.
All told, it’s costing companies money. And that cost goes beyond just settlements or verdicts.
Calvert said: “Businesses spend all this money on employee engagement. We’re going to make them engaged and loyal and they’re going to be brand ambassadors. All it takes is a couple episodes of (family responsibilities discrimination) in the workplace to undo all that engagement work. They start thinking, ‘Gee, if I have a family or my parents need help, I’ll probably have to quit my job.’ It creates a lot of distractions.”
I prefer it when companies do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. But I’ll settle for companies doing the right thing because it will save them money.
Whatever the motivation, the key to getting ahead of FRD is educating managers and supervisors and getting them to recognize what Calvert calls “unconscious biases” against caregivers.
“Often what’s happening is the employers are reacting because of biases they have of caregivers, and they’re not aware they have these biases,” Calvert said. “An employee who’s not a caregiver might need to take the afternoon off because the plumber is coming, and that seems OK. But if someone has to take a parent to a doctor’s appointment, it triggers negative opinions in the supervisor’s mind. This employee is not committed to the job, or not dependable, or
will just wind up quitting.”
I encourage you to read the report. It has some best practices for preventing FRD.
I’m going to return to this issue, as one column can’t do it justice. But for now, think about how your company addresses — or maybe fails to address — the needs of caregivers.
And consider, logically, what you get in return when you help an employee who needs to help a loved one: appreciation, loyalty and higher morale. More often than not, that will give you a harder worker, and a happier workplace.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.