NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T management employees are entitled to caregiver leave, which gives them up to 15 days off a year to care for ailing children or other relatives without eating into their vacation or personal sick days. Paid caregiver time off is a rarity in the U.S., which has no federal law requiring employers to offer paid sick or family leave. AT&T's Vice President of Global Benefits Juli Galloway said the Dallas company decided to offer caregiver leave in 2021 to help its management employees balance their personal and professional lives in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It doesn't apply to non-management employees because their contracts are negotiated separately with their union.

Q: How did the idea of offering caregiver leave come about?

A: We were hearing from our employees, how they were having difficulty managing family life. And when I think about that, I think about this sandwich generation, right? We had parents who were at home. They have young children. They have parents. They are trying to manage both the generation up and the generation down. Our specific employee population is a little bit older than at some of the tech companies. We realized that by focusing only on paid parental leave, we were missing a whole piece of the population. We looked and we said, all right, how can we help our employees? And the idea of caregiver leave was born.

Q: How does the benefit work?

A: It’s up to 15 days in a calendar year where our employees can take time to care for their family members. Personal example, my mom, 83 at the time, stepped off the curb and broke her ankle. I was able to use caregiver leave to take time off from work to go to the orthopedic surgeon with her, to go to the doctor to help her and I was able to do that knowing that I’m not giving up my vacation time to care for my mother. That was a key important point for us. That we wanted our employees to use their vacation time for vacation.

Q: What has been the reaction and the take-up from your employees?

A: I’ll be honest: When we were launching this, I was a little bit concerned that it might be abused. It’s caregiver leave but all of a sudden I have 15 more days in a year that I can take. And I’m really happy to say that’s not what we’ve seen at all. My fears did not come to fruition. We’ve had it two-and-half years so far. I’ll quote the data through 2022 to be clear: We’ve had about 15% of our management employees who have logged some caregiver time off. For those people who have logged caregiver time off, the average number of days taken has been 4.1.

Q: How do you make sure your employees feel empowered to take it?

A: It takes a lot of education and communication. We in benefits have different benefits fairs. We have a benefits newsletter that we have send out eight times a year. We participate in various company halls, etc. We have a concerted effort to try and reinforce that this is a benefit that’s offered just like all the other benefits we have.

Q: How much did the pandemic influence the decision around caregiver leave?

A: It played a key part. Early on in the pandemic, especially, this idea of burnout and isolation … we started to see these things go up. We get regular reporting from the carrier we use to support our employees’ mental health in terms of the top five presenting factors, and burnout was showing up in top presenting factors. And so we tried to dig in deeper and realized we just needed to have something to better help our employees manage their lives. And there were a lot of considerations and factors that went in, but the caregiver leave was one thing that that came out of that

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