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Breaking New Ground: Supporting Employed Family Caregivers with Workplace Leave Policies

Trends suggest that in the coming years an increasing share of family caregivers will be in the labor force, facing the dual demands of employment and caregiving responsibilities for aging relatives.  But managing paid work and family caregiving can be stressful for employed caregivers, particularly low-wage workers, who need to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member yet cannot afford to miss a paycheck.  Existing federal policy and most states’ family leave policies are unpaid.  Only 13 percent of private-sector workers had access to paid family leave through their employer in 2017.

This paper highlights the challenges faced by workers with family caregiving responsibilities, discusses the reality of how many workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave from their jobs, and reviews research on workplace leave policies affecting both employees and employers.  It describes state family and medical leave laws that are more expansive than the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and summarizes state-level paid family leave and paid sick days.  Lastly, the paper offers policy and research recommendations to strengthen family leave policies and support employed caregivers.

As of June 2018, 6 states and the District of Columbia have paid family leave programs, and 10 states and the District of Columbia have paid sick days laws that cover family caregivers of ill family members.  While paid family leave benefits can raise cost and administrative concerns from the employer perspective, research in early-adopter states shows the value of paid family leave and paid sick days, not only for today’s workers, but employers, and the economy as a whole. 

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