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Workplace Discrimination Against Caregivers on the Rise

Caring for an older loved one is the 'new normal'

As the U.S. population ages, more workers are juggling the demands of their jobs with the demands of caring for an older adult.

See also: AARP Caregiving Resource Center.

Providing care for an older relative or friend is the “new normal,” according to a report released today by the AARP Public Policy Institute titled “Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination.” The authors identify family responsibilities discrimination as an emerging trend and highlight the limited legal protections for working caregivers.  

“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.”

According to the report, 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.  

Most family caregivers in the United States are female (65 percent), with the typical family caregiver being 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 such a woman and her peers provide is worth $450 billion.)

As an example of the increase in workplace discrimination against caregivers, the report’s authors note that between 1989 and 2008, a period during which overall 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 while 181 cases were filed between 2000 and 2009.

In addition to explaining the limits of federal protections, the report discusses how protections under state law are also severely limited; only a handful of localities define family responsibilities in ways that protect working caregivers with eldercare responsibilities. The authors also explore how legislative and policy approaches can extend legal protections against workplace discrimination to caregivers of older adults, and they present ways employers can remove barriers to equal employment opportunities 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.”

Download a copy of the report “Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination” and learn more about its authors. Do

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