Issue: Most organizations lack formal elder care benefits or policies. Instead, they assist employees by making exceptions to other policies.
Risk: Unless you apply those exceptions fairly, you'll risk complaints and legal action from employees.
Action: Urge managers to follow the five guidelines outlined below when considering elder care issues.
Say your organization promoted a male employee who recently missed considerable work time due to policy exceptions that allowed him to care for a sick parent. A female employee who wanted that same promotion had racked up several unexcused absences when she took time off to care for a sick father. The result: The female employee senses injustice and claims sex discrimination.
While only 6 percent of employers establish formal elder care policies, a full 76 percent provide assistance for employees' elder care needs by allowing flexibility in other workplace policies, according to a recent survey of employers by the Society for Human Resource.
The problem: Some employees have unequal access to family-friendly practices, such as elder care, due mainly to the random discretion of supervisors who approve the requests.
Advice: Monitor your informal elder-leave accommodations to make sure you apply them fairly. Otherwise, you could face complaints about unfairness, low morale and even legal action.
Urge managers to follow these five guidelines:
1. Don't extend extra leave or other flexibility to only popular, high-performing employees. Playing favorites with policy exceptions could spark claims from unpopular, average workers.
2. Allow employees some flexibility, if possible, to arrive late, leave early, take time off or even work nights or weekends to make up the work. But make clear that such flexibility applies mostly to doctor appointments and emergencies. Don't give employees free rein to set their own work hours.
3. Discuss with employees the level of productivity that's expected of them, even when caring for a relative. Hold employees accountable for it.
4. Document employees', but don't make assumptions in those notes about the reasons for the problems. The Age Discrimination in Employ-ment Act doesn't prevent you from firing people who fail to adequately perform their jobs while caring for a sick parent. But documentation will be your best friend.
5. Don't discipline employees because they've complained that your organization is applying informal elder care policies unfairly.