Caregiver leave may not be the most common benefit, but it’s one that’s gaining traction — and it could be a perk that makes employees’ lives much easier. While it can be expensive for a smaller company to offer paid leave for employees to care for a loved one, there may be ways to offer some assistance. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Caregiver Leave?
This benefit provides time off with full or partial pay for an employee to be a caregiver to a family member. It’s important to distinguish leave specifically for caregiving from other types of family leave. What you may have heard in the news referred to as “family leave” often just applies to new parents. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for unpaid, job-protected leave for childbirth or adoption, for your own medical illness or for the medical needs of a family member.
But under the FMLA, “family” means a parent, spouse or child under 18. If you have an employee who needs to take care of their mother-in-law during cancer treatment, for example, that’s not covered by any federal law. Forbes reports that about a third of family caregivers are caring for someone who falls outside the FMLA.
Beyond the FMLA, for the most part, few laws have any requirements for caregiver leave. According to Forbes, only four states so far have laws that provide for some type of paid family leave, including caregiving. Other state and local laws allow paid sick time to be used for caregiving responsibilities.
Ways to Provide Leave for Caregivers
The general lack of laws mandating paid leave for personal responsibilities means that employers have a lot of freedom to design their own leave policies — and you should consider doing so if you think your workforce could benefit from caregiver support. While it can be difficult to predict who might need to become a caregiver, employees in their 40s and 50s are more likely to be supporting both their maturing children and their aging parents. Employees in this generation value work-life balance, and having paid caregiver leave gives them flexibility to handle family emergencies or other responsibilities.
As a small business owner, you may want to provide assistance to your employees — you know them and their families. And sometimes it’s viable to offer paid or partially paid leave. But even if paid leave isn’t a possibility, you may still be able to offer some caregiver support. Consider the following options for putting together a caregiver benefit that works for your business:
- Provide partial pay during a leave period. Some companies offer leave paid at tiered percentages, for example 70 percent for two weeks, 50 percent for four weeks after that and so on.
- Allow sick time to be used for caregiving. Whether your locality demands it or not, allowing employees more flexibility in how they may use their sick time can reduce stress. This allows them to take kids or parents to doctors’ appointments or deal with minor illnesses without worrying about their paychecks.
- Require accrued leave be used first. Because you’re building your own leave policy, you can decide whether employees need to use accrued sick time or even vacation time before a caregiver leave benefit kicks in.
- Base the benefit on length of service. As with paid time off or the FMLA, you can require that employees have worked a certain length of time before they can use the caregiver benefit.
- Offer flexible schedules. Sometimes employees just need flexibility. Those caring for an aging parent or a child with special needs may need the option of running to doctors’ appointments or working from home.
Offering caregiver leave could be a way to attract and retain talent, but it’s important to make sure the benefits outweigh the costs. Consider the age and situation of the majority of your employees. In some cases, even if a fully funded leave policy isn’t possible, being willing to offer caregiver support through the overall time off and benefits packages you offer can be meaningful to employees and provide them with the work-life balance they need to keep doing their best — at home and in the office.
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