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Caregiver caught between employer’s expectations and family’s needs

By Lynne Curry

As managers require employees to spend more time at the office, they will encounter special circumstances that require special solutions. Consider the following situation of an employee needing to work from home to provide family care.

Employee question:

Since our schools no longer require masks, my husband and I decided to homeschool our youngest child. My employer initially made this easier by allowing me to work remotely.

Although I needed to run into the office occasionally for an hour or two, it wasn’t a problem because my mother-in-law lives with us. Unfortunately, my employer now insists that all employees work a minimum of three full workdays in the office. I argued with my manager and he insisted it was a matter of fairness that I work onsite.

Three full days in the office is not possible for me. My mother-in-law has asthma. She spent five days on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19. She experiences PTSD when she feels short of breath. When she freaks out, it’s terrifying to my youngest, so there’s no way I can leave those two at home alone for a full day.

I’ve looked for another job. I always lose out in the interview stage. The interviewers seem to think I won’t be fully engaged in my job because I’m home schooling. I could keep my  responsibilities hidden during the interview, but I don’t want to do so and find myself fired a short time later when the new employer requires me that I come into the corporate offices for a full day. I’d also rather stay at my current job. Can you help me convince my employer to let me work remotely?

Answer to employee:

You may be in luck. On March 14, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidance concerning caregiver discrimination. Although federal law doesn’t prohibit employment discrimination based solely on caregiver status, it’s illegal to discriminate against an employee or applicant because of the employee’s association with a disabled individual.  As a result, employees and applicants with caregiving responsibilities for an individual with a disability, which may include some individuals with COVID-19 or lingering symptoms such as your mother-in-law, may have protection.1

You’re not alone. More than one in five Americans are caregivers for ill, elderly. or special needs adults.2 The “caregiver” term relates to employees who care for spouses, partners, relatives, or individuals with a disability. Although the average caregiver age is 51, 29% of caregivers are Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980 and 23% of caregivers are millennials, born between 1981 and 1996.

Although fairness to all employees is important, employers can maintain fairness and still provide employees with reasonable flexibility and support when circumstances warrant it.

Employers win when they can retain talented employees by offering schedule flexibility or remote work to their employees taxed by caregiving responsibilities.3 Employees, of course, need to earn that flexibility by maintaining high levels of productivity, as caregiving responsibilities don’t excuse poor work performance.

You can find useful research and strategies for making the case for you working remotely in https://bit.ly/3vNpzsU. For example, can you accomplish your job duties effectively while working remotely? While working remotely have you produced quality work equal to or better than you produced while on-site? Does your productivity substantiate the claim that you work well autonomously?

According to the American Association of Retired Persons, 56% of employees with caregiving responsibilities have employers that allow them flexible hours, 39% receive paid caregiver leave, and 26% benefit from programs, such as paid backup care, designed to help caregivers.2, 4 I’ve suggested to clients no-cost ways in which they can support their employees taxed with caregiving responsibilities, such as providing lists of skilled nursing facilities and YouTube videos on topics such as how to change bedsheets without moving a patient.

Here’s what you and your employer need to know. Employers can’t refuse to hire or promote female employees based on the assumption that female employees will be more focused on children or caring for family members than work. At the same time, employers can’t treat female employees more leniently because of caregiving tasks, nor exempt female employees from duties that require overtime or travel.

Employers need to avoid assumptions about who might have caregiving responsibilities, such as women will more often need to be at home and male employees don’t as that constitutes sex discrimination. Specifically, employers can’t deny male employees leave or flexible schedules because they assume they’re not the family member who performs caregiving tasks. Employers can’t require their LGTBQ employees need to prove their marital or family relationship to the person they care for unless such information is requested from non-LBTBQ employees.

You mentioned talking to your manager. I suggest you connect with your human resources or union representative, or show your manager and perhaps the manager above him this article and ask, “can we work this out?”

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/covid-19-pandemic-and-caregiver-discrimination-under-federal-employment#:~:text=As%20a%20result%2C%20applicants%20and,association%20with%20the%20care%20recipient.

https://www.aarp.org/ppi/info-2020/caregiving-in-the-united-states.html

3 HR Magazine, spring 2022, p. 71

HR Magazine, spring 2022, p. 70

(c) 2022 Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and author of Managing for Accountability, Business Experts Press, 2021; Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM 2016, and Solutions, is President of Communication Works, Inc. and founder of www.workplacecoachblog.com, which offers more than 500 articles on topics such as leadership, COVID, management, HR, and personal and professional development.  Curry has qualified in Court as an expert witness in Management Best Practices, HR and Workplace issues. You can reach her at https://workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach/ or follow her @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

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