Paid Leave: Advocating for Family Caregivers

with Peter Berns of The Arc

A recent Harvard study revealed that 80% of caregivers have experienced a negative impact to workplace performance.

Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, joins host Ellee Pai Hong to discuss the challenges family caregivers face in the workplace, and efforts by legislators and employers to identify and meet the needs of employees with caregiving responsibilities.

Posted on:

May 06, 2019

Hosted by: Ellee Pai Hong
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Ellee Pai Hong: More than 25 years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law, providing employees of large companies up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for their medical needs or those of family members. Hello and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Ellee Pai Hong. Family caregivers can often have difficulty balancing work and caregiving responsibilities which could negatively impact their employment. Joining me is Peter Berns. He is CEO of The Arc. We're talking about here the challenges that these caregivers face because caregivers actually make up the majority of the workforce. Harvard Business School actually recently released a study that said 73% of employees surveyed reported having some type of current caregiving responsibilities. That is a big number and this big number of the workforce, they're experiencing these challenges in caregiving and that's something you have to address. Peter Berns: Well, that's right. It's a huge number. There's other research that says there were 43 million folks in the United States who are unpaid caregivers and they are folks who are committed going into work every day and doing their best at their jobs. But they're facing extraordinary challenges grappling with and balancing the responsibilities of being a caregiver and being successful at work, whether they're caring for a young child or an elderly parent or an adult with an intellectual disability, whatever the case may be. It's a real balancing act. Ellee Pai Hong: Let's talk about some of those challenges they face because I think flexibility is one. They may be late to work one day and maybe have to leave early one day. That's just one of the challenges that they face. Peter Berns: Well, that's right. In our research, 95% of caregivers who were working reported that they were experiencing negative repercussions at work as a result of their responsibilities. Some of that had to do with leaving early and missing work and being distracted while at work, and we also have folks who report that they've had to pass up on promotions. They haven't been able to take a transfer to a different city for a better job or they've even been subject to discipline at work because they've fallen short as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. Ellee Pai Hong: But what employers need to know according to this study is that listening to these caregivers and accommodating these caregivers can actually be beneficial for the company, too. Peter Berns: It's really important for a business. What's happening now is that employers really aren't paying attention to this crisis of caregiving and as a result of that, they are experiencing high turnover, they're losing knowledge, and there are all sorts of costs that are involved in replacing employees, all sorts of costs involved in the lost knowledge when an employee leaves. So there's really a new frontier emerging where employers in the Harvard study, our refined study, the National Center on Children and Poverty just came out with a study, all making the point that these are issues that employers are going to need to address in the future to stay competitive as employers. Ellee Pai Hong: Because the trend show that the number of caregivers, the percentage is actually going up, so this is not an issue that's going away. Peter Berns: No, this is an issue that is actually growing much larger and in organizations like my own, The Arc are really looking to see how can we advance the dialogue about this in the halls of the nation's capital and state capitals and how can we able to support to employers and employees so that employees are able to get their needs met and also be successful on the job. Ellee Pai Hong: Some employees do offer benefits for caregivers but often, sometimes those go unused because of that stigma that's attached. Peter Berns: Well, that's right. A lot of times, the employees are afraid to identify themselves either as someone who themselves has healthcare needs and they require care or that they have caregiving responsibility because they're afraid about how they're going to be perceived at work and the stigma that was going to attach for them. Ellee Pai Hong: As an organization, I know The Arc is huge on actually working with these companies to listen to their employees and come up with better policy. Peter Berns: Yeah. So The Arc is a nationwide charity federation. We have 630 chapters in 47 states and we work with individuals and families with significant disabilities to help them get the individual and the family support they need, and we worked with employers and I have a dialogue ongoing with employers to try to see how we can work together to make sure that these needs are met. Ellee Pai Hong: On a policy level, too, you're working for some changes as well. Peter Berns: Well, that's right. On a policy level, the real push is to focus on the federal government, federal policy. There is currently no uniform nationwide Family and Medical Leave Act. Ellee Pai Hong: Except for the unpaid leave that's guaranteed. Peter Berns: There's unpaid. There's no paid leave available, and so we're really looking to see what are potential legislative solutions for the entire country. There are some states that have stepped forward in this area and have enacted paid leave laws, but we don't have that at the national level and frankly, your situation shouldn't vary based on where you live. Wherever you live, there are caregivers who are struggling to make ends meet and to do right with their families. That's a problem that we need to solve as a nationwide community. Ellee Pai Hong: Yeah, and something that needs to be addressed quickly. Peter, thank you so much for your time today, appreciate it. Peter Berns: Great seeing you. Ellee Pai Hong: Thank you for watching us. For more great conversations with leaders in your area and across the nation, visit

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