Family care bias report illustrates need for flexibility
Family care bias is turning into a red-hot issue for employers, according to a report published by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. Women are affected more than men, the report notes, and flexibility is needed.
Even though caring for older relatives has become “the new normal” in the United States, work-related discrimination against family caregivers is becoming more commonplace.
This trend affects women more than men, the report noted, because 65% of caregivers are women. In fact, the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman employed full-time who spends an additional 20 hours per week providing care for an elderly parent or relative.
There are a couple of main reasons for this trend, researchers found.
“Most people are living to much older ages, while hospitals have adopted the ‘quicker-and-sicker’ model of care,” said Joan C. Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law and co-author of the AARP report, Protecting Family Caregivers from Discrimination. “Hospitals are releasing people after just a few days’ care with the expectation that they will continue to receive in-home care. The responsibility for providing this kind of care normally is taken on by family members.”
The impact of caregiving needs on employers will only increase as their workers, and the workers’ family members, grow older. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that in 2010, more than 40 million Americans (or 12.5% of the U.S. population) were age 65 or older. The bureau projects that by 2030, this number will grow to 72 million (approximately 20% of the population).
The limits of the law
The report includes several examples of employees who lost their jobs because of caregiving responsibilities. For example, a paralegal who was fired after she requested time off after her father had a stroke filed a complaint under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Her case was dismissed after the court determined that she had not been employed for a full 12 months, as required by the law.
“The FMLA is the law, which many believe offers the best protections for family responsibility discrimination,” said Williams. “But the FMLA only covers about half the U.S. workforce, so there are many problems and concerns surrounding leave that [are] not covered by the law.”
For example, the FMLA applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Many smaller-sized companies are not subject to the law’s requirement, which is a problem, because small businesses tend not to offer the time off and leave benefits provided by most large employers.
Other federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, offer some additional protections, but the federal laws are proving inadequate to meet employees’ needs, according to the report. Some states have enacted leave laws, but even with these protections, at least half of U.S. workers would have no real legal recourse if discharged for taking time off for family care responsibilities.
“A growing number of people who need time off or a more flexible schedule to care for elderly parents are finding themselves in a pickle,” said Williams. “What caregivers need is intermittent leave, additional work shift options and more flexible hours.”
Workplace flexibility a solution for some
Many employers understand the problems caregivers face and are offering employees flexible hours and telework arrangements to help them balance work and family needs. Dozens of management consultants and workplace experts contend employers that offer alternative work arrangements and flexible hours usually have happier, more engaged and more productive workforces. Still, business demands and strict operating schedules can create barriers that are tough for employers and employees to overcome.
“Many employers that don’t offer flexible work arrangements to older employees … are quite flexible with students,” said Williams. “Why not offer all employees the same access to flexible hours? Research clearly shows employers that do this have lower turnover and better productivity.”
While Williams and other workplace flexibility specialists recommend that employers adopt or update their alternative work arrangement and flexible hour policies, some local governments have taken the matter a step further by enacting ordinances to prohibit family responsibility discrimination. The AARP report includes a list of 67 local governments that have enacted such laws, although only seven of the laws offer specific work-related protections for the caregivers of older adults. The other 60 laws focus largely on protections for the caregivers of children.
Recently, California became one of the first states in the union where legislation that expressly prohibits family responsibility bias was introduced in the state assembly. In addition, a similar legislative proposal is pending in New York City.
“This issue is going to keep growing in importance as the U.S. population continues to age,” Williams said. “Employers need to be aware and prepare to deal with it, because it is definitely here to stay.”
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.
©2012 SHRM. All rights reserved.
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Stanley Black & Decker posts weak profits
Tool and hardware maker Stanley Black & Decker posted net sales of $2.8 billion for its third fiscal quarter, up 6% over the same quarter last year. Both price and volume were relatively flat, the company said, while currency (-3%) partially offset the contribution from acquisitions (+9%).
Net earnings for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 29, fell 25%. Acquisition charges and shrinking margins on slow sales were to blame, according to the manufacturer.
"During the quarter, we saw pockets of strength within our hand and power tool businesses in the U.S. and the emerging markets, largely driven by our successful new product innovations, which are enabling us to continue to gain market share," said president and CEO John Lundgren. "Conversely, our industrial and automotive repair business in Europe, which is one of the most profitable in the industrial segment, continued to experience market-related contraction."
In year-over-year comparisons, the construction and do-it-yourself segment, which includes the company’s power tools and faucets, posted a 2.9% rise in the third quarter. Security, the door hardware and lockset division, saw a 21.7% increase in sales. Revenues in the industrial segment decreased by 2.1%.
Stanley Black & Decker’recently announced it would sell its hardware and home improvement group for $1.4 billion to Spectrum Brands Holdings Inc. In a note accompanying its financial results, the company called this transaction “an important step in our ongoing transformation to a diversified industrial company.”
A. O. Smith reports strong Q3
Water technology company A. O. Smith Corp. reported third-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $37.0 million, up 38% from $26.9 million in the prior-year third quarter.
Sales for the three-month period ended Sept. 30 were $462.2 million, up 12% from third-quarter 2011 sales of $412.0 million, driven by incremental Lochinvar sales and strong organic growth in China.
The company’s third-quarter performance included a full quarter of Lochinvar’s results, which was acquired in late August last year, as well as a non-cash, pre-tax gain of $6.4 million from a change to the company’s estimate of the Lochinvar earn-out, which is based on revenue targets.
“The factors that have been influencing our business throughout 2012 continued during the third quarter,” said chairman and CEO Paul Jones. “Our A. O. Smith-branded sales in China grew over 20% in the quarter, driven by new distribution, market share gains and new products, despite the slowdown in that country’s economy.
“The Lochinvar acquisition continues to meet the high end of our profit expectations,” he added. “Lochinvar’s new line of CREST ® high-efficiency, higher BTU input condensing boilers, which was introduced last year, has received excellent market acceptance; and we plan to launch new, larger input models of this product later this year.”
Third-quarter sales of the North America segment, which includes U. S. and Canadian water heaters and boilers, increased to $335.7 million compared with third-quarter 2011 sales of $310.2 million.
Operating earnings from the segment of $50.7 million included a gain of $6.4 million related to the adjustment to the company’s estimate of the Lochinvar earn-out, compared with $30.9 million earned during the third quarter of 2011.
Third-quarter sales from the rest of the world, which includes China, India and Europe, increased more than $23 million to $133.8 million compared with sales of $110.5 million in the third quarter of 2011.