Working and Caregiving

You can’t control a doctor’s schedule, a family member emergency or ongoing medical treatment. A job that requires you to be at your workplace or an inflexible or unsympathetic boss only compounds the conflict a caregiver already feels. You can’t be in two places at once: meeting work deadlines and dealing with pressing caregiving responsibilities. Sometimes, adult children or spouses are afraid to broach the caregiving topic with employers out of fear that they will be considered uncommitted to their work.

Issues to Consider

Understanding your rights.

If your schedule is likely to be impacted for awhile, talk to your HR department about what’s offered at your company. They are required to tell you your rights. Is there workplace flexibility, paid and unpaid leave and referral services? Employers are increasingly accommodating caregivers.

You may have certain legal rights that protect you. If you need to take off a period of time, find out if you qualify for the federal government’s Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It gives an employee 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for an immediate family member and protects your job when you return to work. (You must go back to work when your leave is over.) You can take the leave all at once or in intermittent intervals that add up to 12 weeks.

FMLA, however, only applies to companies with 50 or more employees and workers who have been at the company at least 12 months and have worked a certain number of hours. Some states have laws that are like, but not identical to FMLA and offer different benefits. Your HR staff will know.

Other avenues.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is another federal law that might be applicable. If you’re caring for someone elderly with a disability covered under ADA, your boss must treat you the same—give you similar time off—as they do for someone taking care of a young child. The ADA protects you from losing your job or being harassed, or treated differently because of gender.

Negotiate with your boss.

Regardless of whether you qualify, explain your situation to your boss and find solutions that work for both of you. Can you schedule a doctor’s visit in the morning and work later that day or over the weekend? Could you get your job done by telecommuting on the days you need to be home?

Employers want to know you will get your work done and that you are not going to make more work for them. What they don’t want is disruptions, lost productivity, turnover or poor morale.