Eldercare and caregiving are increasingly important issues for employees and employers.
According to the January 2009 study Balancing Paid Work and Caregiving Responsibilities: A Closer Look at Family Caregivers in Canada, more than 27% of employed Canadians had responsibilities for eldercare in 2009.
And this trend is expected to grow, with the boomer and senior populations outpacing younger generations, and increased fiscal challenges within the Canadian health and home care sectors.
As a result, caregiving is expected to impact organizations through increased absenteeism and decreased productivity as employees struggle to deal with the challenges facing them. Fortunately, provincial governments are starting to take notice and are introducing legislation to help employees facing a caregiving challenge. Employers are also working to provide additional access to benefits and services to help employees.
New legislation in Ontario
Recently, Ontario introduced Bill 30 regarding family caregiver leave. If passed, the bill would amend current leave entitlements to allow employees to take a leave of absence without pay in order to provide care or support to an individual.
Under the change, employees can take up to eight weeks each year. This unpaid leave builds on the existing Family Medical Leave, which provides unpaid leave for an employee to provide care or support to an individual who has a significant risk of death occurring as a result of a medical problem.
The Ontario Family Medical Leave program builds upon the 2004 Federal Compassionate Care Benefits program, through which employees can receive eight weeks of employment insurance (EI)—really, six weeks paid plus a two-week wait period—for an approved leave to provide care or support to an individual with a serious medical condition and who has a significant risk of death occurring. In all instances, a medical note is required to qualify.
Saskatchewan leads the country in caregiving provisions. Saskatchewan provides up to 12 weeks per year for any serious illnesses that require caregiving, with an additional four-week top-up when the employee is in receipt of EI compassionate care benefits.
Similar to the proposed Ontario legislation, employees in Saskatchewan are not limited to taking a leave only during a palliative caregiving situation; rather, they can be protected during a broader caregiving need.
Quebec also provides up to 12 weeks; however, the caregiving must be for someone with a palliative care situation.
All other provinces, with the exception of Alberta, provide up to eight weeks’ unpaid leave as part of provincial-based compassionate care leave legislated programs.
The good and the bad
Ontario’s proposed legislation certainly presents a better opportunity for employees in the province, as it provides coverage beyond a palliative or imminent death situation. While care needs often increase during the last few months of a loved one’s life, there is strong evidence to suggest that the length of time providing care can often exceed three years.
The 2001 National Evaluation of the Cost-Effectiveness of Home Care study found that 9.5% of the population surveyed received care for the full 10 years of the study. More than 40% surveyed received a combination of home- and facility-based care for an average of three to five years before death.
Over the past few years, employers have begun to introduce programs that offer additional supports to employees facing a caregiving challenge. Some examples include the following:
- Care management and advocacy – These programs provide the employee with access to an expert case manager who can provide guidance, navigational support, case management and access to resources and services (such as home care or backup care and emergency monitoring services) to assist with the caregiving challenge.
- Paid leaves – Some employers have begun to provide short-term paid leaves of absence that can be used for a number of different reasons, including a caregiving situation. Most often, these programs offer three to five days that can be used on short notice throughout the year.
- Backup care providers – Leading backup care providers provide services to address both childcare and eldercare needs. Care can be arranged on an emergency basis across the country as needed. In some cases, employers provide direct funding that can be used to pay for the care.
- Employee assistance programs – Most employee assistance programs have expanded their offerings to include access to resources to help employees with caregiving challenges. These programs provide basic information about resources, which employees can then contact to arrange services.
The number of employees facing a caregiving challenge is expected to increase considerably over the next few years. This is largely due to the aging population, combined with challenges faced by Canadian health and home care systems.
But provincial governments are starting to make small changes to employment and labour legislation, and employers are beginning to implement benefits and programs that help to address the inherent absenteeism and decreased productivity associated with the problem.