July 5, 2017
Jennifer B. Cona
New York is one of the first states in the nation to enact a paid family leave benefit law and to expand the definition of family caregiving to include elder care. Gov. Cuomo’s Paid Family Leave Benefits Law applies to all businesses, regardless of size, and will be phased in over the next four years beginning in January 2018. While this new benefit is a victory for elder caregivers, it does not tell the whole story.
The Paid Family Leave benefit provides for a phase in of up to 12 weeks of paid leave time to care for a family member with a serious health condition, which includes caring for a parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, spouse, domestic partner, child or grandchild. However, the benefit will only provide 50 percent of the employee’s salary (phased in to 67 percent) up to a maximum cap based on the New York State average weekly wage. When the benefit takes effect in January 2018, the maximum weekly benefit will be capped at $652.96. The benefit is touted as “pro-business” because it is financed not by the company, but by employee payroll deductions.
Unfortunately, both employers and employees will still inevitably feel the high costs of elder caregiving on the workforce, including the costs of absenteeism, termination and turnover. Elder caregiving costs employers $33.6 billion annually in lost productivity. When work conflicts with elder caregiving, employees choose to make changes in their work life. In fact, 66 percent of elder caregivers report making work adjustments, including arriving late/leaving early, taking time off, cutting back on work hours, changing jobs, or giving up work entirely. Further, one-in-five elder caregivers has taken a leave of absence from their job. These are startling statistics and no industry is immune.
As our population ages, we face a two-fold demographic problem: the elderly are living longer (but not necessarily healthier) and people are working longer/retiring later. This demographic workforce challenge is similar to the strain placed on businesses in the 1980s due to inadequate childcare. Elder care is the new child care.
While Paid Family Leave will provide some financial relief to the elder caregiver, businesses will still bear the burden of losing talent, recruiting temporary workers, reassigning work and job duties, downtime, training costs and lack of continuity for clients and customers. Employees will suffer lost wages, potential derailment of their career path, lost promotions and reassignment of important projects.
Employers and Human Resource professionals must be prepared for the reality that, at a moment’s notice, an elder caregiver may need to deal with a hospitalization, a home health aide who fails to show up, an urgent doctor appointment or other emergency elder caregiving responsibility in addition to the day-to-day coordinating of elder care services. This of course results in personal phone calls on the job, use and abuse of leave time, missed deadlines, poor work quality, sporadic attendance, and prolonged or frequent disappearances from workstations. “Presenteeism” is also an issue, that is, the employee is physically present on the job but is mentally somewhere else. The emotional stress of “parenting your parent” is like no other stressor.
With the right support, employees do not have to choose between work and elder caregiving. Companies that provide education and have resources in place for elder caregivers equates to a workforce that does not need to take paid family leave or that can minimize the amount of time taken. Elder caregivers should be provided with the tools they need to navigate the elder care landscape while remaining present and productive at work. Businesses benefit not only by insulating their bottom line but by attracting and retaining top talent with cutting-edge voluntary benefits.
Cona is the managing partner of Cona Elder Law, an Elder Law firm in Melville. The firm provides an Elder Care Employee Benefit program called TAWC: Tools and Advice for Working Caregivers which helps employers by reducing absenteeism, downtime and turnover and promotes job security for employees. Visit www.conaelderlaw.com for information.