If you can accrue sick leave at work and you work in Minnesota, your opportunity to care for an ailing relative just improved. A new law went into effect on Aug. 1 that says that sick leave from work at Minnesota employers of 20 or more can be used to care for the needs of a child of any age or a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent or stepparent.
Previously, the law said accrued or earned sick leave could be used for an employee's own medical needs or that of a dependent child, but no one else.
This change was strongly backed by the seniors advocates at AARP for good reason: Much of the care of frail elderly people in this country is provided on a voluntary basis by their younger relatives, most of whom are also employed. A new AARP study found that nearly half of the nation's employees who took time off from work to care for an elderly relative lost income in doing so.
Nearly two-thirds of workers between ages 45 and 74 have caregiving responsibilities for an adult relative, the same study said.
Accommodating those caregiving needs with the use of accrued sick time makes good sense for families and for society -- including employers who want to keep taxes in check. Taxpayers benefit if families are able to provide adequate eldercare voluntarily, at their own expense. Baby boomers tend to be caregivers for their parents now, but in the flash of a decade or two, boomers will be the ones needing care. Their numbers will strain public long-term care resources unless younger family members can afford to be caregivers.
Feminists claim, with ample justification, that the American workplace has not yet adjusted to the implications for society of having two-thirds of the female population over age 16 at work outside their homes. Unlike other industrialized nations, the U.S. does not require employers to provide job-protected paid-maternity leave, paid vacation time, paid sick time or caregiving leave for family members.
The new state law doesn't require more employers to offer paid sick leave. It only expands how it can be used. That's a small change, but for some families, it will make a big difference.