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About 1 in 4 Americans are taking family leave to care for a sick family member

A new study out from Pew provides some insights about Americans' caregiving as relates to their jobs.

Some of the findings:

  • About one-in-four Americans (23%) say they have taken leave from work to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

  • Four-in-ten of the family-leave takers, however, say they took less time off than they needed or wanted to.

  • 60% of those who took family leave in the past two years say they received at least partial pay while they were out of work. Some of that pay came from vacation, sick leave or personal time off. Relatively few of these workers (15%) say they received pay from a separate family and medical leave benefit provided by their employer.

  • Most women (59%) say that family caregiving responsibilities fall mainly on women, while only 29% of men agree with this assessment. A majority of men (69%) say family caregiving responsibilities fall equally on men and women. The study itself indicated that 65% women served as a primary caregiver for their sick family member, while 44% of men did.

  • Among all workers who have taken time off from work in the past two years to care for a sick family member, about four-in-ten say the experience had an impact on their career.

  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to say the impact of taking family leave on their career was positive (26% vs. 10%).

There is a lot that could be deduced from these numbers.

In terms of the number of Americans taking family leave, nearly a quarter of Americans have taken it, yet quite a few of those still took less time than they wanted to.

In terms of pay, about 60% received some pay for the time -- largely by way of using their accrued vacation/PTO or sick leave, not through a separate family leave benefit.

There is a significant disparity between men and women's perceptions of how the burden of family caregiving falls.

And lastly, 40% of people believe that taking family leave had some sort of impact, positive or negative, on their careers. Interestingly, 26% of men report that taking family leave actually had a positive impact on their careers -- twice the rate reported by women.

Employment Law Policy Implications

I've written before about how the US is the only advanced economy in the world that does not mandate paid leave for mothers at the federal level. The lack of an entitlement to paid family leave hurts caregivers of all types.

And this is not a small proportion of Americans. Nearly a quarter of people in the study reported to having taken leave to care for a family member. And another quarter reported they thought it somewhat likely in the future.

And beyond the issues of pay and the pervasive need for family leave laws are the issues of where the burden of caregiving falls. The study suggests 65% of women served as primary family leave caregivers while 44% of men did. Thus, to the extent taking leave puts these individuals at risk for caregivers discrimination or family responsibilities discrimination -- as I've written about here -- women are simply at more risk than men.

At the same time, men seemed to experience a boost at work as a result of their family caregiving (26% of men) at more than double the rate reported by women.

These findings suggest that not only do family leave laws need to be expanded to protect more workers, both men and women need to be protected from any adverse affects or retaliation in their jobs for having taken the leave.

Doorways Employment Law specializes in employment law counseling, strategic advice and representation to individuals and businesses across Massachusetts, including on issues relating to family leave. Contact Doorways Employment Law for an employment law consultation.

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