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The Next Big Employment Issue: Legal Protections for Elder Care

As the Baby Boomer generation edges towards retirement, the United States is hurtling into a new era. Because the Baby Boomers represent a disproportionately large demographic, Americans will need to find a way to balance elder care with employment. Elder care can be very time-intensive and not all people can rely upon assisted living or nursing home facilities to help carry the load.

Currently, employment discrimination laws do not protect employees who need to take time to care for an aging parent or loved one. Although employees often rely on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take time off of work to care for family members, FMLA does not directly apply to elder care.

FMLA generally guarantees employees a certain amount of unpaid time away from work to deal with medical or other care situations. Employers cannot fire an employee if FMLA applies to the leave time.

Unfortunately for many employees with care responsibilities for an older family member, FMLA is not much help. FMLA only applies to specific family members and specific care situations. Moreover, smaller employers are usually exempt from its requirements. This means that an employer can lawfully fire an employee just for taking an afternoon to help an older parent get to a doctor's appointment, for example.

Although other state and federal laws sometimes apply to elder care situations, many (if not most) employees currently have no protection. This coverage gap is going to become more and more important as employees need to spend more time caring for elder loved ones.

Source: Forbes, "Sex Discrimination, Age Discrimination, Family Responsibilities Discrimination," Ashlea Ebeling, Sept. 10, 2012

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