If you’re worn out by taking care of a loved one while maintaining a career, you’re not alone. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, one in six working Americans are in caregiver roles, and more than half of them work full-time. With so many employees caring for elderly family members, some businesses have implemented policies to allow workers to leave for doctor appointments or work from home, but 61% of caregivers report receiving warnings about performance or attendance, having to cut back work hours, or even end up losing wages or benefits.
As a caregiver, it’s important to address issues affecting your time or performance at work before it leads to financial difficulties, emotional stress or job loss. You may have legal rights regarding how much time you can take off, which your company’s human resources department should be able to discuss. And because your boss may not know about your needs for a more flexible schedule, it’s up to you to address it. Only 56% of caregivers report their work supervisor is aware of their caregiving responsibilities, which means changes to scheduling or flexibility could take place if the employer knew the need existed.
Whether you have to miss a meeting one day or need a whole month off, it will be much easier if you know how to deal with your employer.
Know your FMLA and ADA rights
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division and protects anyone needing to take leave to care for a family member, including elderly parents. According to the act, if you’ve worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year for a public agency, school or a company that employs 50 or more, you’re entitled to receive 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave—and also maintain group health benefits during that time. While unpaid leave can be tough, you still have the security of knowing a job will be there when you return.
- Beyond just protecting those who have disabilities themselves, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) also prevents discrimination against those who provide care to disabled family members. While workers with caregiving responsibilities are not entitled to receive workplace accommodations under the employment provisions of the ADA, employers may not treat workers with caregiving responsibilities disparately when compared to workers without caregiving responsibilities. Basically, the act states that employees with caregiving responsibilities should have access to the same types of workplace flexibility as every other employee.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers enforcement guidance that explains what constitues discrimination against a caregiver, and also shares best practices related to employing workers with caregiving responsibilities. Arming yourself with this information can go a long way when discussing your time off with an employer.
- Review your state and local family leave laws
Many state laws require employers to allow caregiving employees to take job-protected leave (sometimes paid) to take care of a family member. These laws may apply to smaller employers not covered by FMLA or overlap with FMLA requirements. Depending on the state, employees could be entitled to longer periods of leave than FMLA or to receive paid sick leave, or even state-issued partial wage replacement benefits when unable to work.
In California, for example, caregivers may be eligible to take job-protected leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and/or receive wage replacement benefits through the state’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program. Be sure to do some research on your state’s family leave laws and discuss them with an HR representative.
Choose a company that supports caregivers
It’s not always easy to switch jobs in the midst of caregiving duties, but it never hurts to know which companies are making strides to accommodate the evolving needs of their employees. For instance, Deloitte offers an expanded paid family leave program with up to 16 weeks of paid leave, which can be used for anything from bonding with a new baby to caring for an ill parent or grandparent, and the time can be taken all at once or in increments as needed. Shortly after its implementation in 2015, CEO Cathy Engelbert (now retired) wrote a blog for The Hill expressing the difference it was making in the lives of employees.
“One employee told me she is managing care for two aging parents, one with Alzheimer’s and one with Parkinson’s, and that this program will help her as she tries to meet the needs of her family and continue to fulfill her passion for working,” she wrote. “We have found that it’s important to offer the traditional benefits of a 401(k) plan, along with medical, dental, and vision health care insurance plans, tuition reimbursement, and generous vacation policies. But what really demonstrates our commitment to our people is to show them that their years with Deloitte will involve a diverse range of challenges, and that we will support them at every stage in their lives.”
While many companies aren’t offering benefits as extensive as Deloitte’s, the list of those trying to accommodate caregivers is growing. To help alleviate financial burdens experienced when taking time off to care for elderly parents, Microsoft offers four weeks of paid leave and Meta (formerly Facebook) offers six. Bristol-Myers Squibb provides up to eight weeks of paid family leave, and Intel offers eight weeks paid leave as well as two weeks of pay for bereavement.
And even if they aren’t offering financial assistance, many companies are stepping up to provide emotional and logistical support. Duke University offers a Family Support Program for employees taking care of seniors with memory disorders, which includes a free, personalized consultation with an expert in aging as well as complimentary monthly support groups. Starbucks provides free access to resources that help with senior care planning such as long term caregiver options, housing alternatives and legal advice. And Unum provides an employee assistance program with access to counselors and support services for eldercare.
Ask for resources that can help
With so many employees handling the care of elderly loved ones, many businesses are finding it’s better to help them cope than to deal with retention issues. They’re offering assistance with finding alternative care, helping with insurance and financial concerns, and more. Some companies have implemented support services such as Family First into their benefit plans, in which employees and their families have access to a team of legal experts, nurses, social workers, mental health professionals and physicians—all trained in solving complex caregiving challenges. The comprehensive platform supports virtual care sessions, medication and medical records reviews to help caregivers and doctors coordinate care.
CEO and Chairman Evan Falchuk developed the company after his family dealt with caregiving issues themselves.
“We needed help navigating my father’s health care, and it was overwhelming when we couldn’t find it,” he said. “Just for an expert in the field to ask us questions like, ‘Does he have a diagnosis?’ and ‘What are his living conditions?’ and ‘What medications is he already taking?’ Someone to peel back all the layers and get an in-depth picture of what we were dealing with, and to tell us which doctors could really help us—not just hand us a brochure.”
Because he was juggling work and caregiving, he began to understand what so many other employees with elderly parents are dealing with—and his wheels began to turn. If he could develop a system with all the caregiving resources in one spot, people wouldn’t have to take off work to tour adult daycares or interview home care providers. They could just make one call to connect with a care expert who could point them toward the best match. And he could make it a company-sponsored benefit that employees wouldn’t have to pay for—because they already had enough financial burdens to worry about.
Not surprisingly, launching Family First was a huge success. Companies seeking to boost productivity jumped on board because it meant employees would need less time off. And employees began doing their jobs better because they were able to focus on their work, and most importantly, themselves.
“I think employers are starting to see that caregiving isn’t just an event; it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “And they’re realizing the saying about putting your oxygen mask on first before taking care of others is spot-on. The people that work for you are the ones that will ultimately be responsible for your success, so you have to take care of them or you’ll continue to see a revolving door of employees.”
Family First includes counseling services to help caregivers cope with exhaustion, guilt and so many other common emotions. Being able to get those feelings off their shoulders allows them to return to work with clearer minds so they can do their jobs better. And that’s never a bad thing for employers.
It all begins with an honest conversation
Not all companies offer a resource like Family First, and some employers don’t fall under the FMLA umbrella. But that doesn’t mean caregivers who work there don’t deserve help. Businesses of all sizes want to retain valuable employees and are willing to bend the rules to make it happen, but they can’t help if the entire picture isn’t clear. Falchuk said it’s important to approach employers to discuss why you need time away, what they can do to help you, and how you plan to continue to help them. It’s a team effort that can work well if it’s done right.
“We’ve failed to recognize as a society that caregiving is a regular part of life,” he said. “Once employers understand that and employees know they have support, it can improve the overall culture of a company.”